Just coming off 10 days of upgrades she looked great and the workers are doing a awesome job in making her look so good. The workers throughout were gracious in assisting one's needs. The Tamarind was as great as we had read about. The MDR ... Read More
Just coming off 10 days of upgrades she looked great and the workers are doing a awesome job in making her look so good. The workers throughout were gracious in assisting one's needs. The Tamarind was as great as we had read about. The MDR was very good with open dining, only bad thing was no lobster on a seven day holiday cruise. Lido far exceeded our expectations the food was very well with excellent flavor.Activities still need some work though. We would choose HAL again. The Hydro pool and it's thermal suite were worth it!! The Dive had great burgers and hot dogs worth waiting for. Exploration's Cafe was placed in a great quiet location. Embarkation and Disembarking was as smooth as we have never seen in our previous twenty plus cruises. The BB King, Billboards were great to listen and dance too. Did not get to see the Kitchen shows but it seemed well liked by those who did attend from what we heard. Read Less
My wife and I chose to celebrate our 40th by going on a cruise. We picked Holland America and was very glad we did. The experience was beyond our expectations. The comfort and service was better than most 5 star resorts. We especially ... Read More
My wife and I chose to celebrate our 40th by going on a cruise. We picked Holland America and was very glad we did. The experience was beyond our expectations. The comfort and service was better than most 5 star resorts. We especially enjoyed the perks of the Neptune Suite. The concierge service was great. We decided to renew our vows during the cruise and the Cruise director, Erin, and our concierge staff made it the most memorable moment of the cruise. My wife is still beaming for the care that was provided and the ceremony performed by Captain Vincent. Dinner afterwards in the Pinnacle Grill was spectacular. The entertainment was really good and the the Exploration lounge was great for those down times. We did not experience any problems with embarkation or debarkation. In fact it was extremely efficient and well done. We most will certainly cruise Holland America again. Read Less
My husband and I are avid cruisers in our late 40's. This is our first trip on the Holland America line. We chose this because of the dates of travel since we wanted to go away over New Years and because the price was reasonable. We ... Read More
My husband and I are avid cruisers in our late 40's. This is our first trip on the Holland America line. We chose this because of the dates of travel since we wanted to go away over New Years and because the price was reasonable. We chose the 7 day voyage of is cruise. We have been to all of the ports before, except HAL's island and all were nice. We have sailed on Princess, Royal Caribbean, Celebrity, Azamara, Norwegian, and Disney. This ship reminds us most of Princess. It was very elegant and did skew to older people. We were in the minority when it came to age. There was a good mix of passengers from all over speaking many languages. Some of the reviews I read were not that great and I cannot understand why. This is one of the best cruises we've taken. Everything was excellent.
Room: We chose an inside cabin to keep costs down and we spend very little time in our room anyway. The cabin was laid out nicely. The most impressive thing was the amount of storage space we had. Also, the shower was very large, bigger than any we've had before and even large enough for 2 people. The bed was really comfortable and we had a large tv that had tons of movies all for free.
Service: The service everywhere was excellent. We got a hello from every crew member we passed. Our cabin steward was excellent, came to introduce himself and we saw him frequently and he always addressed us by name. Our room was cleaned at least twice a day and we got chocolates and towel animals every night. The service in the main dining room and the lido buffet was top notch. We had open seating so we had different servers each night and all were excellent, helpful and friendly. So service everywhere was top notch. Everyone went out of their way to greet you and make you feel at home.
Food: All food that we had was delicious. First in the main dining room where we ate dinner every night, all food was hot and tasty. There were many choices at dinner and you could get whatever you wanted and as much as you wanted. We loved the lido buffet area on the pool deck. We ate breakfast there every morning and had some lunches there. They had an excellent selection. I've never seen so many varieties of bread. They also had an awesome salad station with about 100 different things to choose from and someone makes your salad for you and then mixes the dressing in. There was also pasta stations, Asian stations, and carving stations just to name a few. There was a nice dessert selection, a lot of cookies and hard and soft serve ice cream in waffle cones or bowls. I also loved the fact that most things were not self serve. The crew would give you the food. I liked this because it cut down on passengers touching and putting their hands all over the food, coughing, etc. and you could get as much as you wanted from the servers. They were happy to dish out anything. Sorry to say but passengers can be rude and kind of gross and greedy so the whole setup of the buffet was really nice and I would say the best ship buffet we have had. Other food options that were great was the Dive In, a burger, hotdog and fry place. Food was cooked to order and it was super. There was also the NY Deli. They had bagel sandwiches in the morning among other things (their NY bagel with lox and cream cheese was delicious), had pizza and big deli sandwiches at lunch and dinner and during movie nights you could get nachos and cheese, soft pretzels, chicken wings, cheesy Doritos, popcorn, corn dogs, etc. so much food to choose from and all free. There was a paid gelato place which we did not do because of the free ice cream. We also did not eat at any of the specialty restaurants so I cannot speak to that. All of the included food was so good, we did not need to spend extra money.
Entertainment: We very much enjoyed the entertainment. There was a cruise director and her assistant but no other staff. We saw all of the shows- a comedian that was funny, a magician who was great, two shows with the singers and dancers which were really fun with great music, a piano player who did a bunch of Elton John and Billy Joel and then a really nice live band that played along to a BBC production of a nature show. It was fantastic. There was not a ton of stuff going on during the day, but enough to keep you entertained. We played trivia a few different times and it was hard but fun. They had Billboard Onboard which we loved and went to a lot. It was like dueling pianos. Lots of fun. If you like jazz and blues, a very popular place was B.B. King's blues club that was really happening. And if you are into classical music they had some string musicians at Lincoln Center Stage. So a lot of really nice entertainment. This was not a crazy party cruise and I would not choose HAL if you want that. They did have what looked like a really cool Pub Crawl one night where we saw people go from bar to bar and they seemed to have a great time. There were movies out by the pool on most nights on a big screen and that was a lot of fun.
Ports: We went to their island Half Moon Cay which was great and just what you'd expect from a ship's island. We also went to Grand Caymen, Cozumel, and Key West. We've been to all before so there was nothing special we did. No pre planned excursions.
Other: Some really nice touches were afternoon tea each day. We went just once but it was elegant and a lot of fun to have good tea, sandwiches, scones and pastries. Also a nice touch on New Year's Eve, not only did we get champagne, but we also got a whole bunch of hors de vores. To thank the passengers for cruising, they also had toward the end of the cruise a chocolate surprise night and servers came around with a ton of chocolate treats for everyone. It was decadent and delicious.
So overall, an excellent experience. I would definitely book with HAL again. The ship was beautiful and well appointed. It was decorated beautifully and there was something for everyone. Anything you were not happy with, they do their best to fix the problem. Cruise director was friendly and outgoing and always all around the ship. There was a place to make you own blend of wine and a cool culinary kitchen concept. You could never be bored and if you wanted to just sit around the pool and relax, there were so many spaces to do this. Lots of comfortable chairs and beds, and seats to choose from. Easy embarkation and debarkarion and we were allowed into our rooms immediately. We were on the ship by 11:30am. I don't know how they do it so fast. A great trip from beginning to end! Read Less
This is a LONG log-style review. I have included our pre-cruise activities in New Zealand as many of these can be done as shore excursions from Tauranga. If interested in just the summary, scroll down to the bottom.
We booked this ... Read More
This is a LONG log-style review. I have included our pre-cruise activities in New Zealand as many of these can be done as shore excursions from Tauranga. If interested in just the summary, scroll down to the bottom.
We booked this cruise nearly 11 months ahead as we decided to do the 17 night round-trip Auckland cruise. Departure from our home in the Philadelphia region was on Wednesday, Dec. 13. An Uber driver picked us up at 5:00 and we arrived at the airport for our 8:35 flight at 6:20. There was no wait to check our bags and no wait at the TSA precheck line. We were at Chick-Fil-A at PHL airside by 6:30.
Our American flight to Los Angeles was about as good as it gets in coach. DW had seat 10F, the exit row with no seat in front. I was next to her in the middle seat but right after takeoff our neighbor in the aisle seat moved back a row as that aisle and middle was empty. So we had the whole three seats in the exit row for the 6 hour flight. We arrived 45 minutes early (how does that happen?) and were in the shuttle to the LAX Hilton by the time our flight was scheduled to arrive.
The LAX Hilton is an older hotel however the bed and pillows were wonderful. It was quiet and very close to the airport. We slept in until after 8:00 and then had a leisurely breakfast in the executive lounge. We repacked our one suitcase and two carry-ons as our next flights are on Fiji Airways and they limit the carry-on weight. If it were not for the weight limit we would just have had one stuffed carry-on but this way we needed to take two.
A local friend came by at 1:00 to take us to Santa Monica for the afternoon. He went way “Above and beyond” with his time and friendship. We had never been there and enjoyed the walk all around the pier, seeing (and hearing) the many different musicians selling their CD’s and hoping for donations. We had a light lunch at Bubba Gump’s on the pier. We had discovered that the one thing that did not make it into the suitcases was band aids. Due to some recent skin work we need four fabric ones per day, so we stopped at a CVS to obtain a big box.
We were back at the Hilton at 5:20 and picked up our luggage. Our friend dropped us at the international terminal at 5:40. There was a very short wait to check our bags at Fiji Airways and yes, the carry-ons were weighed. Getting through security took quite a while and even though we have Global Entry no precheck line is available. This was the most through and intrusive security screening we’ve ever witnessed. With such a long trip one carry on was largely medications and they insisted on examining these.
We met our cruising friends from Florida right after security. We walked the terminal to see what was available and we sat and visited in the food court. Our flight was delayed a little due to “Cargo loading” and we arrived Saturday morning in Nadi Fiji 15 minutes behind schedule.
I will say that this 11 hour flight was likely the ‘worst’ flight we have ever had to date. We had seats in row 9, g & h (aisle & window). These seemed like the tightest and most uncomfortable seats. Our friends were behind us and their comments were the same. Many crying babies. Beverage service was very sparse. No need to talk about the food (it was not edible)…
The transfer at Nadi airport seemed to use technology that is 30 years old. The line moved very slowly as each connecting passenger was being checked off manual dot-matrix printouts.
Our flight to Auckland is at 10:00. Being on Fiji time, the plane arrived late (from Honolulu) and so we left 35 minutes behind schedule. We also arrived 35 minutes behind schedule. This was a much more comfortable flight in a 737-800, with seating assigned but equal in comfort to Southwest back home.
Customs in Auckland was a pleasure. Automated kiosks read your passport if you are from certain countries (including the USA). Then obtain your luggage and the only wait is to get through controlled substance checks. They are serious about no meats, animal items, wood, etc! I found an ATM and obtained local currency and then we picked up our Avis rental. We were upgraded to a full size SUV and it is a good thing we were as the luggage barely all fit.
We drove the 90 minutes to Hamilton and checked in to our hotel, the Argent Motor Lodge. Lovely rooms and great service at check in. It was time for showers to get out of our nearly two day clothes. After we went to the Saturday evening “Hamilton night market.” We enjoyed dinner from a variety of vendors and it was a fun and very inexpensive way to enjoy ‘dinner.’ On the way back to the Argent, we stopped by a local grocery for a few items.
Sunday, Dec. 17 – Hobbiton & Waikite Valley Thermal Resort
We were up early and enjoyed the Argent provided breakfast. Then we were off to Hobbiton, where we had tickets for the first tour of the day at 8:30. We arrived at 8:12 and were quickly checked in. The bus pulled up to take the first group of 41 adventurers to the Hobbiton movie set right at 8:30.
Our guide was terrific and while I had high expectations for this visit they were all exceeded. We have a marvelous tour, took hundreds of photos, and even had a mug of Hobbit Cider at the conclusion of the tour. The best decision we made many months ago was booking the first tour of the day! We were able to take clean photos without other tour groups getting in the way. This was the way to best see “The Shire.”
The gift shop would be well served to have more “Movie set” related items. In fact, we commented on our guide’s hat and he said “You can get one in the gift shop.” This was not the case. They even told us that hat can’t be purchased anywhere.
We left the Shire’s Rest at about 11:30 and began the drive to Waikite Valley Thermal Resort. This ended up being a bit longer than we expected but along the way we stopped in Rotorua and found a delightful pedestrian only street with restaurants. We ended up at Mac’s steakhouse and enjoyed a great lunch of fish & chips and a prawn salad. We also visited a local ice cream place and then noticed a street market along the coast of Lake Rotoiti.
Then we completed our drive to the Thermal pools. We enjoyed relaxing in the warm waters and spent a few hours there. Next we began the drive back to Hamilton. The GPS said an hour and 45 minutes and that is what it took. We stopped for fuel along the way. As we approached Hamilton we decided to stop at the Hamilton Gardens where a summer Sunday event “Gourmet at the Gardens” was taking place (we learned about this from the Argent folks).
This served as our supper stop and then finally back to the Argent at nearly 8:00. A very full day indeed but lots of fun.
Monday, Dec. 18 - Waitomo Caves: Glowworm Caves and Ruakuri Cave.
Monday was another day full of adventure. We were ready early and were loading up the car at 7:10 AM. We returned the outlet adapter to the office and checked out of the Argent. A combination of TripAdvisor and the Argent’s proprietor led us to the “Coffee and Food Establishment” for breakfast. Everyone thought this was a terrific breakfast. We all had something different and enjoyed it greatly. Service was superb.
From there we began the just over an hour drive to the Waitomo Glowworm cave. We were there a half hour early for our 10:00 tour. Kind employees snapped a few group photos for us and then we also posed for the photos they would like to sell you at the conclusion of the tour. We found a huge wooden slab table to sit at (on huge slab benches) while waiting for our tour. When the 9:45 tour was departing they asked if we were on that tour and we said no. What we should have asked was if there was room for us?
The Glowworm cave allows no photography of any kind while inside the cave. All the marketing materials concentrate on the ‘boat ride’ through the glowworms but in actuality the tour is 80% walking and going up and down steps, with a short boat ride (the highlight of the tour) at the end. We did enjoy the experience but this was more stair climbing than we expected. We did buy the group photo package at the end including digital downloads of the eight photos. I also asked the gift shop folks and they had a single shirt in my size which was purchased.
Next we had a 12:30 appointment at the Ruakuri Cave. This is the amount of time between tours recommended. It is way too long. We arrived at Ruakuri at 11:25 hoping we might get on an earlier tour. This was not to be. The waiting area for Ruakuri is outdoors and as it was raining (a good day for cave tours) we ended up waiting in the car. This tour was 90 minutes and as it is stated to be “Wheelchair accessible” we did not think it would be strenuous.
I give the company great credit in that it truly is wheelchair accessible. Ramps everywhere and no stairs. However, there were a number of places we had to crouch-walk due to low clearance and this was very difficult for my DW. On the other hand, over the years we’ve been in a number of caves. This was the most pristine and undamaged cave environment I ever recall seeing. The great room at the furthest point is spectacular and we greatly enjoyed seeing the cave.
From here we stopped at a tourist trap info center to use the facilities. They advertised Wi-Fi but wanted $2.00 for 20 minutes. We back-tracked to the nearby town and stopped at a McDonalds for a snack and to use the Wi-Fi to find the best route to Auckland. It was 2 ½ hours driving back, the first 2/3 over mostly curved hilly roads. The traveling went well until we were five miles from our destination, the Crowne Plaza in Auckland when the expressway came to a dead stop. Those last five miles took over an hour.
We checked in to the hotel and I parked the car in the adjoining garage. Later this evening we will need to go out and fill up the tank and verify where Avis is for the return. We walked around the area and found the “Federal Street Deli” at Sky City. This real “New York” style deli was great and everyone could have as little or as much as they wanted. Super food and great service. We returned to the hotel and took the car out to fill up the gas. We passed Avis as well. Driving in Auckland is not for the faint hearted and not recommended. I really didn’t mind the driving until we arrived in Auckland.
Tuesday, December 19 – Auckland and embarkation
No need to be up super early today so we agreed to meet at 8:30 and head to breakfast. We found a place “The Ugly Bagel” on TripAdvisor. We found it, only to find they had a very limited menu, no eggs, and the bagels were rather small. Two of us obtained coffee (not very good) and we agreed to head to Denny’s. Denny’s was okay although we were surprised that at 9:00 on a weekday it was ‘Dead.” A few others came in while we were dining but we’ve never seen a Denny’s so quiet.
We returned to the hotel and I made a stop at an ATM to obtain more NZ currency for later in the cruise. We met at 10:30 and packed up the car, checked out, and headed for the Queen’s Wharf and the Maasdam. We arrived at 10:58 and they kindly let us park to unload and get the ladies settled in the terminal. The men went back to Avis to return the car. Avis was busy with no automated return. They said we could just leave the paperwork and keys. It took us 17 minutes to drive back to Avis, and then it took us 12 minutes to walk back to Queen’s Wharf.
Check in had opened so we all together went to check in. From arrival to being on board the Maasdam was less than 20 minutes. We dropped off our carry-ons in the impeccably clean cabins (Thank you Dede and Andy) and went to the dining room for lunch. There were few (very few) in the dining room but imagine our surprise when our waiter is Wirawan, the same waiter we had for our dinners last year on the Koningsdam. He immediately remembered us. Lunch was great and we all enjoyed our meal. DW was also able to pre-order dinner for her special needs.
After lunch we returned to our cabin to find our luggage was delivered. We also met our cabin steward, Dede and his partner Andy. Dede provided us an oversize laundry bag so we were able to send out all our soiled clothing for wash. We changed into swimwear to spend some pool time only to find the lido pool drained and closed. The aft pool was open but too cool for us, so we opted for a long soak in the hot tub.
We got ready for dinner and the 5:00 muster drill. We visited the Ocean bar and spoke with a couple who have been on board for the previous round trip Sydney cruise. They told us all was well with the Maasdam and they have greatly enjoyed their cruise. At about 5:10 the third alarm was sounded so we worked our way down to station #11. With only about half the passengers required to attend, it was not crowded and was quickly completed by 5:25.
We went directly to our 5:30 fixed seating table #53 and met our waiter, Agus. Dinner was ‘strained.’ I don’t know a better way to say it. I’m not sure if there was miscommunication or what happened, but DW’s meal arrived with three items she can’t consume, (despite the special order) and it needed to go back. Roast Turkey was on the menu which is normally one of ‘the guys’ favorites but it seemed to be off tonight. Dessert became another challenge as the only item that seemed to work for DW was the crème bruelle but it was totally cold and not appetizing.
Despite being the first in the dining room for dinner we were the last to leave from fixed seating. We thought there was a 7:30 port talk but when we reached the showroom it was empty. Turned out it was at 7:00. The Trio in the Ocean bar had just about finished their set, so we walked down to the atrium to inspect the Christmas displays. They have two trains actually running in the evening and a nice presentation including a mountain with a sign ‘Pinnacle desserts made here.’
We listened to Adagio for a while and then found our traveling friend listening as the shore expert spoke to other guests about Christmas in Melbourne. A few options we were not aware of came up. Then we went to the Piano bar for Barry from Boston’s tribute to the Beatles. Barry was terrific. At about 10:15 he said he still had six Beatles tunes so his set would run late. We have an early start tomorrow so we left at about 10:20 to call it a night.
Wednesday, Dec. 20 – Bay of Islands, New Zealand.
As this is a short and early tender port we ordered breakfast for room service. With a delivery window of 6:30 to 7:00 it arrived about 6:50. Everything was as ordered and hot. We had arranged to meet our friends at 8:00 but we ran into them at 7:40 and as we were all ready we proceeded to the Ocean bar for our tender tickets.
We were given #6 but five minutes later “All numbers” were called. It is a long tender ride (20 minutes?) from the ship to shore. So it was about 8:30 that we were on shore. We had a 9:00 overview tour booked with “Total Tours” so we used the time to explore the craft market set up across the main road. Both the ladies purchased some handmade seashell jewelry from one of the crafters. We also noticed a unique shell clock being offered and spoke some with the artist.
At 8:55 we went to the Total Tours table and found that just one other person was on our tour. We were off and had a terrific overview tour of the area with the highlights being a scenic lookout from the local golf course and the Haruru Falls. Our timing was incredible as a ship’s tour was just heading to the falls on a Maori watercraft and we were able to witness this.
Our tour ended as scheduled at 10:00 and we decided there was enough to see and do there in Pahia that we did not attempt the ferry to Russell. We enjoyed looking over the several craft markets, attempted to negotiate a deal for two of the shell clocks without success, and found a neat shop with shirts in the right size and I also obtained an authentic New Zealand made bush hat. Both the ladies made additional shell jewelry purchases.
At about 11:40 we got in line for the return tender. There was quite a wait but we did get on the next tender and made it back to the Maasdam at about 12:30. We went to the dining room for lunch and then enjoyed the hot tub. Still no water in the pool, but later in the afternoon as we sailed away they began to fill the pool. Dinner was in the dining room followed by a few tunes in the Ocean bar and the evening show, Violin Virtuoso Patrick Roberts. He is extremely talented but is the type of show I find it hard to stay awake for. After the show we enjoyed Barry in the Piano Bar for “Piano man night,” the songs of Elton John and Billy Joel. We lasted until about 10:20 and called in a night. We gain an hour tonight with a time change.
Thursday, Dec. 21 – Sea Day #1
Time change? It didn’t feel like it as we slept well until at least 7:30. We went to the Lido for breakfast followed by a 9:00 “Coffee chat” with Barry from Boston. This was a very nice session and we learned a lot about Barry’s background. It turned out our traveling friend attended the same music camp at the same time as Barry! After the chat at 10:00 there was a Dutch Shuffleboard Challenge. I came in third and for my efforts earned a Holland America Australia / New Zealand pin.
We enjoyed the lido, finding a table near the pool and had lunch followed by some pool time. Being surprised at the pool temperature (cooler than expected) I lost my glasses in the pool. There was a stressful 45 minutes until one of the young boys with goggles found them in the deepest part of the pool. Afterwards it was time to take a nap before our first gala night.
It is obvious that gala nights on this cruise will be continuing the trend towards less formality. With the luggage restrictions it just makes sense if there is no need to bring jackets or suits. Dinner was okay with the Asian shrimp being the entrée of choice. After dinner the show was the singers and dancers in “Dance.” Not sure what the point of that show is. We left the show a little early to get seats in the Piano bar. Tonight Barry did an evening of show tunes “Barry’s Broadway.” We enjoyed until his first set ended at 10:40. We gain another hour tonight!
Friday, Dec. 22 – Sea Day #2
Again, we had a time change? We slept soundly until 7:00. We decided to dress for the pool and have breakfast at the lido. After breakfast we went out to the pool to find there were two other early risers enjoying the pool before the day really got moving. DW was able to do her water exercises and I kept her company and enjoyed speaking with others leaving Maasdam tomorrow after their 32 day cruise.
Our traveling friend found me and said we had mail about Sydney. They are assigning times to leave the ship. That could be a problem as we have a private eight hour tour set up. He was able to get the four of us the first ticket for continuing passengers but we have another party touring with us. I went back to the cabin to both get ready for computer class and to call our third party. I did not reach them but they ended up coming to the same computer class. They managed to also get the same ticket time, with great effort.
There was a deck sale this morning. The ladies found t-shirts they liked so we have more t-shirts to take home. We visited a while before getting ready for lunch in the Pinnacle. The Pinnacle lunch was very good despite a few mis-steps. My steak was initially very undercooked (extremely rare). That was corrected. We ordered fries as the Pinnacle fries are the best on the ship but were brought Dive-In fries. I asked about this and was told the Pinnacle fries were only available at dinner, but they would see what they could do. Sure enough, Pinnacle fries appeared nice and hot some minutes later.
The men enjoyed some pool and hot tub time before a nap. We made it to the Ocean bar for happy hour today. I worked on my log and uploaded all the photos to date to my PC. Dinner is in the dining room and tonight will be our last night with Agus. The menu seemed somewhat uninspired this evening but after our Pinnacle lunch no one was very hungry anyway.
We went to the show, magician Adam Mada. His act engaged the audience and was okay. Afterwards for a change we went to the Crow’s Nest to listen to “The band.” We lasted until about 9:40 and called it a night as we have an early start tomorrow for the sail in to Sydney, Australia.
Saturday, December 23, 2017 – Sydney, Australia (no, this is not Nova Scotia!)
We set the alarm for 5:30 AM and woke on our own shortly before. The bridge cam showed we had just entered the harbor from the open sea, so we were soon on the bow, along with about two other folks, and stayed there until we had passed under the harbor bridge. We enjoyed the sail in and with the early sun from the east the photos should be special.
Returning to our cabin, we finished getting ready for the day. We have pink 1 tickets (the first in-transit group at 8:30) to get off the ship. We never heard them call pink 1, but went to the gangway at 8:25 and they wished us a great day. We quickly passed through passport control and were on the curb at 8:35 for our 9:00 pick up. I texted our guide, Mark, from all around Sydney tours. He responded that he was on his way and he arrived just before the 9:00 scheduled time.
As we slowly drove through the port (Mark called it the prison) we discussed our plan for the day. The first spot we stopped at was the Sydney Observatory. The 160 year old fig trees there were nearly as impressive as the views of North Sydney and the harbor bridge. From there we stopped at “The Rocks,” the oldest area where a street market was going on. We obtained a nice hat for DW. Back to the van we headed to Mrs. Macquarie’s chair for fantastic photos of the Opera House and Harbor Bridge.
From there we began to head to the beach, passing through each little cove and bay along the way. We saw all the sleek sailing yachts preparing for the Boxing Day regatta to Hobart. We stopped at Watson’s Bay to view the beach and also looked back at the city from the distance. “World Famous Bondi beach” was the next stop. We can see the attraction of this beach, but there is quite a crowd! We drove through Paddington and saw many of the historic row homes built in the 1840’s.
We then were dropped off at the Opera House. We walked around, went into the lobby, rode the unique “Roof-less” elevator, and walked to the entrance of the botanical gardens. Then it was time to be picked up! Our next and longest stop was in Chinatown. We visited “Paddy’s market” to do some shopping. Expecting everything in the market to be “Made in China” I was pleasantly surprised to find vendors selling “Made in Australia” at very good prices. A few such polo shirts were purchased and we looked at leather (both cow and kangaroo) hats but did not buy one (but should have).
At the appointed time we again met Mike and he whisked us off to Darling Bay to view a few of the ships from the Australian Maritime Museum. This is a very pretty area with all the “Big bank” buildings across the water. At last he returned us to the White Bay cruise terminal at about 4:50 PM.
Returning to Maasdam, the muster drill was underway for the 1000 or so guests who joined today. We found we had ‘just missed’ being able to get a dive-in burger or ice cream. However the main pool had sat in the brilliant sunshine all day and had gained about 10 degrees making it delightfully warm. We met the Maori ambassadors (three of them) in the pool.
About 6:15 we went to the Lido for dinner. In our 150+ days of HAL cruises, this was our first time to have dinner in the Lido. Why tonight? Well, the menu in the dining room was rather uninspired and we wanted to be able to be out and about for sail away photos.
Maasdam left the dock moments before the stated 6:30 departure time. We had backed in and therefore took off like a shot! In less than five minutes we were passing under the harbor bridge. The ship’s horn was sounded liberally. I don’t think it took Maasdam much more than 40 minutes in total to be out of the harbor and in the open Pacific.
At 7:30 a tree lighting ceremony took place in the main foyer. This was fun and warm cider or hot chocolate was served, along with Christmas Cookies. There was no show until 9:30 (a ‘welcome aboard’ show) so by about 8:30 or so after our very busy day we called it a night.
Sunday, December 24, 2017 – At Sea #3
We woke this morning at 6:00 and could not get back to sleep. We went to the lido at 7:00 for breakfast dressed for the pool. By 7:25 we were in the pool and DW could do her aqua therapy. We moved to the hot tub at 8:00 after watching the pool staff take the covers off. We ran into our traveling friends and went to the 10:00 port talk on Melbourne. We had all been invited to a mariner’s “Welcome back” reception at 11:00 in the crow’s nest. The orange juice was very good although many beverages were available.
At the same 11:00 hour the Maori ambassadors were doing a “Learn the Haka” session in the showroom. So at 11:15 we left the reception and headed down to the showroom. We had lunch on the pool deck. With the roof partly opened it certainly chilled off a little from yesterday! After lunch the men enjoyed the hot tub. Tonight is a gala night and also Christmas Eve.
Christmas Eve “Gala” dinner was excellent. My end cut of Prime Rib was superb. The ladies had maple glazed fish with shrimp and Canadian bacon rice. We skipped the show due to a time change to 7 & 9, in favor of enjoying the Maori Ambassadors singing Maori Love Songs followed by a Christmas Sing Along with Barry in the Piano Bar. We attended the 11:00 Performance of the three crew choirs. They ended with a combined choir singing Silent Night followed by a processional where the crew lined up at the exits wishing everyone a Merry Christmas as they left.
Monday, December 25 – Christmas day in Melbourne Australia
We had a nice dining room breakfast before meeting our friends to leave the ship at 9:00 to see what we can see in Melbourne today. I give the city of lot of credit. Many volunteers were at the dock and in town to help guide visitors. Public transit is free as it is Christmas day. The express bus took us right to the center of town, one block from Flanders station. There were many Christmas displays and few folks out and about early this morning, so we had the chance to take some great photos.
As 10:00 approached, the bells of the main church were ringing and ringing and we watched the vicar welcoming Christmas worshipers. We hopped on one of the free trams to visit Chinatown hoping to find some open shops. We did find a number of places with cooked goose hanging in the windows. We also found the shop windows of Myers department store with the animated story of the Christmas elf. We found a few open souvenir shops but did not purchase anything. We rode another tram to visit the docklands area. This is distinct and in a different part of town from the cruise ship dock.
In the docklands we enjoyed the waterfront and then wandered through an open air mall (with all the stores closed) until we reached the Melbourne Star, their version of the London Eye. We might have ridden the Star except we were there at noon and they didn’t open until 1:00. From there we rode another tram back to Flanders station. While on the tram we discussed options for the rest of the day and decided to head back towards the ship.
Back on board we made it in time for lunch from the Lido. We then used the pool and mostly the hot tub. Christmas dinner was “Gala optional.” We opted not to be “Gala” however we greatly enjoyed the best dinner of the cruise thus far. The “Slow roasted turkey” was top-notch. Surf and Turf was also offered. We men had second helpings of the turkey, and also complimented the chef on it.
The show was the singers and dancers in “Droom.” “Droom” being a Dutch word for dream. We did not enjoy the show and the writer must have been in a dream state when writing this. Droom made us long to have our own dreams so we called it a night, missing out on Barry’s 50’s night.
Tuesday, December 26, 2017 – Burnie, Tasmania, Australia.
We had coffee and tea delivered to the room at 6:00 this morning. That helped get our day started as our goal was to be on the first shuttle bus this morning as we had an 8 hour tour planned with Robyn McCarthy of “Play a Round in Tassie” tours. We had reserved the COASTAL DELIGHTS TOUR. We had breakfast in the lido and lined up to depart the ship at about 7:50. Within moments the gangway was open and we were quickly on the shuttle to the Maker’s workshop to meet Robyn.
Robyn was ready for us with a sign and a smile and we promptly left to begin our tour. We drove through the main street of Burnie and went to an overlook for photos of the ship and town below. While there, Robyn gave us a brief history of the town and the repurposing of some of the large buildings after the paper mill shut down in 2010.
Moving on, we drove out of town to the Guide Falls. Robyn drove us to above the falls and dropped us off. The falls are beautiful and accessible for nice photos from a paved path; they are also accessible right to the base via a rough and rocky path. Just when we were done taking photos Robyn met us and led us back down the path to the parking and restroom area. At the parking area we saw one of the famous Tasmanian birds, the name I can’t recall but I have photos.
We drove back towards Burnie and stopped at the Fern Glade reserve. Here we searched for the elusive platypus. Our search was in vain and Robyn reported that severe floods two years ago washed many of the platypuses out to sea. They are recovering but it is slow. However at the reserve we did see and I was able to photograph Wallabies in the wild.
We now began to drive along the old coastal highway towards the town of Penguin. Just before the town we turned inland and began a magnificent drive to Wings Wildlife Park. On the way we stopped at the George Woodhouse overlook for photos of the beautiful valley and mountains. Robyn also showed us many fields of poppies. Yes, those kinds of poppies. Tasmania is the producer of over 60% of the world’s legal poppy production. The dried poppies are then processed on the island into the ingredients used for medicinal pain killers.
We reached the Wings Wildlife Park and from the parking area it doesn’t look like much. However, once inside, we had a magnificent time. We arrived just in time for the Koala feeding, one of the few times during the day the Koalas are awake! We took many photos of the oh so cute Koalas. Next there was an unscheduled Tasmanian devil feeding. I took a number of photos of the cute and tranquil devils. However, their behavior changed completely when dinner arrived.
The three Tasmanian Devils fought over their dinner to no seeming end. Incredible photos and videos were taken and we could certainly understand why they are named as they are! We walked pass some mountain goats to the Kangaroo enclosure. The Kangaroos eat right out of your hand (we were provided food) and like being scratched under their necks as they can’t reach there themselves. A number of the Roos had babies (Joeys) and we were also able to see and feed some of the moms. Again, lots of photos and videos were taken.
We had some Roo food left over and Robyn told me to just throw the bag at the mountain goats. The two nearby goats proceeded to fight with their rams over the food. Walking to see the Wallabies I noticed a snake on the ground. Robyn said that was a Tasmanian King snake, a very poisonous snake. She reported it to the staff and we did not continue up that path.
It was time for a restroom stop and then a quick look at some baby animals and fish. Soon it was time to wash up and head out. We drove to the town of Penguin and stopped for photos along the beach. Regretfully there are no Penguins on the beach at this time of day. We continued down the coastal road to the city of Devonport. Devonport is a little larger than Burnie and a short drive further brought us to Anver’s Chocolates & Fudge. Samples were complimentary and purchases were made.
After Anver’s as we have a longer than typical port call, Robyn was able to take us to a Cherry farm as Cherries are just in season. We enjoyed a number of very tasty cherries as well as samples of two types of Cherry liquor at “The Cherry Shed.” We also visited Speyton Orchard where cider was available. Again, complimentary samples were available as is a paid sampling of six alcoholic ciders. We enjoyed the free samples and bought a few bottles of standard cider for immediate consumption.
We then drove back to Burnie. Robyn offered to take us to yet another lookout but we had already been out for eight hours and wanted some time to look around the Maker’s workshop. Small purchases were made and we made sure every last Australian dollar was spent.
A shout out is deserved by the many volunteers at Burnie. Both at the ship and at Maker’s workshop, volunteers worked all day to make cruise visitors welcome. This was a major holiday, Boxing Day, so special thanks to the town folk who worked so hard on their holiday to make us feel welcome.
We were on the third to last shuttle back to Maasdam after Robyn bid us farewell. Back on board we took quick showers and sent every last piece of clothing worn today out to the laundry. Dinner was not as spectacular as the past two nights but no one went hungry. The show was Mario D’Andrea. He was fantastic and was certainly the best show of the cruise to date (and proved to be the best show of the cruise). He did two encores and we went immediately to the Piano Bar for Barry’s “60’s night.” We managed to stay until 10:15 before calling it a night. The clocks get pushed forward an hour tonight as we leave Australia behind.
Wednesday, December 27, 2017 – At Sea #4
Today we began our crossing of the Tasman Sea, well known for some of the roughest waters in regular navigational lanes. We were blessed with mostly sunny skies, a high of about 68 degrees, and a smooth ocean.
We went to the dining room for breakfast at about 8:30. Shortly after returning to our cabin at 9:30 or so we heard the announcement that group 3 was ready to head for New Zealand immigration processing. We arrived at just the right time and in a few short minutes were cleared. Kudos to New Zealand for handling this on the ship rather than delaying shore calls with these procedures.
We had lunch on the lido and enjoyed the hot tub for a time. The haddock in the lido was very good. I visited the Microsoft workshop where Georgia, the tech-spert helped me find and make a copy of the Windows photo and movie making programs I use which are no longer in Windows 10. She also provided electronic copies of all the digital workshop handouts.
Dinner returned to the “Very good” column tonight. Three of us had the featured dinner Cobb salad while one greatly enjoyed the Pot Roast. The chef stopped by and we complimented him and also told him how much we enjoyed the lido lunch. He was greatly appreciative. Internet connectivity continues to be beyond hopeless.
We passed on the singers and dancers show of “Atlantic Crossing” in favor of the movie, The Hitman’s Body Guard. Immediately as the movie finished we moved to the Piano bar for Barry’s 70’s night. The last 30 minutes was rather a downer. I never realized how many huge 70’s hits are so sad and depressing, but we did manage to stay up until he took his break at 10:45. We lose a second hour on the clocks tonight to bring us to New Zealand time.
Thursday, December 28, 2017 – At Sea #5
The Tasman Sea continues to be placid with mostly sunny skies and a high of about 62 degrees. We slept until well after 9:00, likely a record for us on a cruise. By the time we went to the lido for a light breakfast most of it was closed down at 10:20! We didn’t want a lot anyway as we had a mariner’s reception at 11:00 and the mariner’s lunch at 11:30. We walked around and noticed a deck sale. Would have loved to buy the $10 boomerang but don’t want trouble bringing it into Fiji post-cruise.
We enjoyed the mariner’s reception where maybe a dozen folks received their copper medallions and one silver medallion was awarded. We met a nice couple at the mariner’s lunch for which this was only their second HAL cruise. Afterwards we ran into our friends and attended the Indonesian Crew Show at 1:30. Dede, our cabin steward, was the director of the show. Both Wirawan and Gede our dining room team were in the show as well. After the show we enjoyed the hot tub.
Late in the afternoon I tried again to use the internet and I was again unable to get my work e-mail. In fact, I could reach hardly any web pages at all. I’ve had enough with this and went to the front desk, showing them my internet usage report and how since Sydney while the minutes disappear the MB remains near zero. I asked for a refund of the package I purchased and they promised to get back to me. Later that evening they did respond with a 75% refund.
Dinner was quite enjoyable with great service as usual. The show was the “Interactive comedy of Kim Potter.” Kim (male) is from New Zealand. He lost us in less than 15 minutes. We then went to the piano bar where Barry was setting up so we spoke with him a while. Barry’s theme for the evening was “Ascertain that tune!” It was a lot of fun and we had 13 of the 20 correct.
At 10:35 when Barry went for his short break we called it a night as we are up early tomorrow for Scenic Sunrise cruising in Milford Sound.
Friday, December 29, 2017 – Scenic Cruising Milford and Dusty Sounds, New Zealand
We woke at 5:15 to see a faint outline of mountains of the bridge cam. Our alarm was set for 5:45 but at about 5:40 the bridge cam was clearer and it was apparent we were entering Milford Sound. We still had 40 minutes before sunrise but I threw on the clothes I had laid out the prior evening and joined others on the bow. I took lots of photos and some video as it progressively became lighter. A large pod of dolphins approached and then swam under the ship.
We reached the end of the sound with the large waterfall at about 7:00. The ship turned around, I assume those on the $1200/person shore excursion tendered to shore (did not see this though) and we began the trip back down the sound at 7:30. The return trip was much more enjoyable than the entry trip. For one thing, there was now sunlight on some of the mountainsides. We exited the sound by about 8:30 and went to the dining room for breakfast.
At 10:00 the Maori gave a talk on Maori designs and their meanings. This was another standing room only event in the explorer’s lounge. We had a light lunch in the lido before the scenic cruising in Dusky sound began at about 12:30. This was a “One way” transit exiting a different way than we entered. I thought Dusky sound was more picturesque and when we were sheltered from the wind and in the sunshine it actually felt warm. We “Turned a corner” and the wind became ferocious. I saw no wildlife but DW did spot a few seals sunning on a rock.
After the early start we did take a 2 hour nap during the afternoon. Dinner was enjoyable in the dining room. It’s the singers and dancers tonight with “Heat” so we skipped the show which we have seen before. We saw someone on a cell phone so we got ours and sure enough, we were off the southern coast near the terminus of NZ highway #1 and had a strong signal on deck. I was able to download all my e-mails and send some reports.
We enjoyed Barry in the Piano Bar for “Sinatra night.” DW even received a HAL “South Pacific” pin for her participation. Called it a night at 10:15 as tomorrow begins five port days in a row and our plans are uncertain.
Saturday, December 30, 2017 – Port Chalmers (Dunedin) New Zealand.
Maasdam docked at 7:00 in Port Chalmers. What we really wanted to do here is the Taieri Gorge Railway. Problem is that the Ocean Princess is also in port so the cruise lines have chartered the two available trains. The cruise lines charge more than 400% of the true fare (but you get a free lunch) so we did not do the train.
A private tour provider had mistakenly given us hope that there would be last minute seats on sale so we did not prebook an excursion. That was a mistake. Leaving the ship at 7:30 we went to the information center to find many tours available but many others sold out. We ended up buying the hop-on hop-off with Dunedin transfer option though Headfirst Travel NZ.
Our transfer was set for 8:45. The cruise terminal did offer free and good internet. It was nearly 9:00 before we left and we arrived in Dunedin at 9:20. The first Ho-Ho route left at 10:00 so we walked part of the shopping district. We took the Ho-Ho route as far as the Dunedin train station. It was nice that we stopped long enough to take photos of the “Worlds steepest street” and the main building at the University.
There was a farmers market at the train station but certainly no deals of any kind to be found. We walked to the Cadbury tour and all tours were sold out. However, they did have a “Cruise ship visitors” store set up and after looking at the nearby supermarket we did buy some Cadbury at the cruise ship store.
Walking back to the town center we explored the main shopping street and found a modern mall tucked in behind the storefront. We did find one relative ‘bargain’ on an extended Boxing Day sale. We walked the rest of the shopping area and returned to the bus pick up site at about 1:00. We let them know we wanted to return on the 1:30 shuttle and tried to get comfortable while waiting.
The return shuttle was in a non-air conditioned 11 passenger van and it was getting warm. We returned to the Maasdam at about 2:10. Overall this port call was disappointing. If I had to do it over again I would have chosen the nature tour to see the Yellow Eyed Penguins and Albatross colony. When we were back on the ship we enjoyed a “Dive-In” burger and ice cream for lunch. I enjoyed the hot tub for quite a while and then relaxed in our cabin before getting ready for dinner.
Dinner was fine and we attended the show, “Frozen Planet Live.” Although we had seen this before the photography is worth a second viewing. While the ship’s musicians participated we believe there is also canned music in the soundtrack. After the show we enjoyed Barry in the Piano Bar for ‘U-Pick it Classics’ songs from before 1964. We lasted until about 10:15 and called it a night.
Sunday, December 31, 2017 – Akaroa, New Zealand
Announcements were made the prior evening that independent tender tickets would be handed out beginning at 9:00 in the Ocean Bar. I will say I like this better than handing out tender tickets at 8:00 and making everyone sit around for an hour or more like we encountered earlier this year. We arrived at the Ocean Bar about 8:55 to find it filled with people.
Right about 9:00 they did announce that tender tickets were available and also that four or five star mariners did not need tickets, just show your key card and go at any time.
Our traveling friends obtained ticket #3. Five minutes later tickets 1-4 were called so off we went. It is a longer tender ride to the town dock, stated to be about a mile and a half. The tender took about 20 minutes to reach town and we were ashore at 9:30. Right on the pier was information centers and we were directed to our prebooked tour providers.
Our first tour is at 11:00 with Pohatu Penguin Tours. They gave us our boarding cards and told us to come back just before 11. We wondered the town and DW found a locally made jewelry piece to add to her collection. We were back at 10:45 and found our van waiting at the designated place. We were allowed to board and soon all were present and we left a few minutes early.
Wow, what a tour! This two hour tour took us on the scenic roads on Banks Peninsula to beautiful Pohatu Bay. There, on the family farm, we first fed the sheep, which are very used to visitors providing lunch! Then we were guided into the penguin colony. We viewed the tiny blue penguin chicks in their burrows. We also saw how the family takes care of injured penguins and nurses them back to health and release. They are NZ department of conservation approved operators. Then we drove back to Akaroa over the same roads. Jodi our guide told us a lot of information and this was a superb tour to enjoy unique experiences.
We had just less than 90 minutes between tours but walked down towards our second meeting spot. We heard there was a local crafts market operating so we found it at the Presbyterian Church yard. There were only about six vendors and nothing too attractive for us. We stopped at the local supermarket for cold drinks and went to watch our afternoon tour boat, the Ecoseeker, arrive back from their “Swim with the penguins tour.”
10 minutes or so before our appointed 2:30 time Steve, the owner, welcomed us onboard. We went out and enjoyed seeing and photographing “1000 foot cliffs, sea arches, amazing volcanic formations, caves, marine farms, White Flippered Blue Penguins, Albatross and other seabirds, Akaroa Marine Reserve, Nikau Palm Gully, and Occasional Blowholes.” From this list we did not see any Albatross however we also had close interaction with the local Hector Dolphins and came very close to a Cormorant bopping in the waves.
The boat was so stable we were very pleased, even at speed. This is an “Ex America’s Cup Chase Boat and previously a Coastguard Marine Rescue vessel with 600HP four stroke outboards” Steve is another long term local and his family farm borders the inlet.
This was an outstanding tour and truly rounded off a “10” day in port.
We returned to the dock and walked quickly to the tender pier. We were the very last to board a waiting tender and off we went. We were back on board at 5:20 and tonight, New Year’s Eve, is a “Gala night.” We certainly did “Gala light” but we all managed to make it to the dining room by 6:00. Surf and Turf was the featured entrée. The lobster was very good while the filet was just “Okay.”
After dinner we returned to our room to take care of the day’s laundry. Then we went to the showroom for Patrick McCullaugh. This had to be nearly the worst entertainer we’ve ever seen on a cruise. His first three jokes were about a Potato. All four of us left within five minutes. It’s hard to believe HAL couldn’t find something better for a major holiday “Gala” evening!
Leaving the showroom, we went to the Mix Piano Bar to await Barry from Boston for his “All request” evening. While there, the crew began coming around with Oliebollen and Apple Floppies. They were scrumptious and so much better than sitting in that show!
Barry’s show was great with an “Open mike” and a few of the guests helped provide additional entertainment. We left the Mix at about 10:30 to get seats in the showroom for the main New Year’s Eve Party beginning at 11:00. This was a nice event and we noticed food stations being set up in the main lobby on decks 7 and 8. We had a nice time and watched the New Year come in together.
After we wandered around taking a few photos and stopped at the Mix to wish Barry a Happy New Year. We stayed for one (extended) number and called it a night.
Monday, January 1, 2018 – Wellington, New Zealand
Being New Year ’s Day we were alerted that many shops and restaurants would be closed. Those giving that warning were not kidding. At least 80% seemed closed, including the shopping malls. We left the ship before 9:00 and rode the port provided shuttle bus into downtown. It was less than a two block walk to the Cable Car. There were volunteers to guide visitors at many spots, thank you Wellington!
We rode the Cable Car to the top of the mountain and took photos. We enjoyed the free cable car museum and took many photos. We walked the downhill, ‘Back to town’ path through the Botanical Gardens. The gardens are very nice, clean, and well maintained. At the bottom a few other volunteers encouraged us to not miss the rose garden and begonia house. We heeded their advice and checked those venues out as well.
Wanting to visit the “Te Papa” museum (National museum of New Zealand) we called an Uber which quickly transported the four of us for the princely sum of $10.95. We can’t believe the museum is “Free.” This is an extremely well done museum and we enjoyed it very much indeed.
After the museum we walked back towards the shuttle bus stop, visiting a few vendors along the waterfront while searching for a cold drink. We ended up at a McDonald’s where we ran into Dede, our cabin steward. After being unable to connect to McDonald’s Wi-Fi we headed back to the shuttle bus and returned to Maasdam at about 1:10.
We had lunch on the lido and used the somewhat warmer pool and relaxed in the hot tub. I hooked up to the local cell service to check and send e-mails. We enjoyed dinner in the dining room and called it a night. After staying up for New Year’s and a rather early start, we needed to catch up on sleep. Plus, we have an early 7:00 AM tour departure tomorrow in Napier.
Tuesday, January 2, 2018 – Napier, NZ
We arrived on time in Napier and the gangway was open at about 7:05. Our group of nine met at 7:00 in the crow’s nest (meaning an earlier room service breakfast) and we were all on the first shuttle bus. In fact, there were 10 on the shuttle. They kindly left before ‘filling up the bus’ as we told them we had a tour to catch.
Our driver with Hawke’s Bay Scenic tours was Jim. This tour took us through the countryside showing us various farms, orchards, and vineyards. We visited Te Mata Peak, the highest in the region, watching all the mountain bikes & hikers enjoy the trails. Regretfully in the morning it was not clear and we could not see more than a few miles from the peak.
We stopped for a break and found that January 2 is nearly as large a holiday in NZ as January 1. Many shops and pharmacies were closed. We drove on through the town of Hastings where Jim told us that there are over 40 empty storefronts. Many folks are buying things on line from outside NZ rather than in shops.
Driving back to Napier Jim showed us the main street of art deco buildings and then took us to the Bluff Hill Domain, from where we could observe the entire port and the Maasdam. Driving back he dropped four of us off at Main Street while the other five were returned to the cruise ship bus stop.
We enjoyed walking the main shopping street and found about half the shops were open. A few small purchases were made. We really enjoyed watching the antique cars, many of which were for hire for short local tours. If we had more time we would have likely taken advantage of this, as it would be a treat to ride in many of these. Taking the shuttle bus back to the ship we found a swing band playing on the pier and a collection of 1920’s and early 1930’s cars there with their proud owners. We lingered a while enjoying the ambiance before reboarding the ship.
Back on board, we had lunch in the lido, sitting outdoors by the pool. The captain made a long announcement that tomorrow’s in port times were being adjusted to a 9:00 arrival and 8:30 departure (still a very long day in port) and that due to a strong weather system moving in our scenic cruising was being canceled for Thursday. Rather we will arrive in Auckland at 8:00 Thursday morning, spend the day and overnight in Auckland, followed by disembarkation on Friday as scheduled.
I hooked the computer to the cell phone to find that sure enough the forecast for Auckland is for rain from Thursday until next Monday. Tomorrow in Tauranga is 50% chance of rain. Well, the weather thus far has been incredible. 23 of the top 25 things to do in Auckland are outdoors according to TripAdvisor. The other two are museums. We quickly found that the Queen Street Cinema is showing “The Last Jedi” in IMAX 3D at 11:00 on Thursday. That is certainly a good possibility.
We spent some time in the hot tub and then showered up. Dinner was as always a pleasant time. The show tonight is “Classique” with the singers and dancers. We twice before have walked out of this show. We watched a movie in the cabin and called it a night.
Wednesday, January 3, 2018 – Tauranga, New Zealand
We did not arrive at 9:00 as scheduled. It was actually after 10:30 before the gangway was in place and open. We are docked next to the Ovation of the seas. It was down pouring when the gangway was open so we instead headed for the very pleasant hot tubs. We watched the armies of folks getting of the Ovation. That is some huge ship.
We had an early lido lunch and headed out at about 12:30 as the rain had essentially stopped. We took the $10 round trip bus shuttle into Tauranga, about a 20 minute ride. We walked the town, enjoyed a coffee break and used the free Wi-Fi to make a call back home, and then headed back to the shuttle bus.
When we got off the shuttle rather than head back to the ship we headed into town here on the island. We should have just stayed here in the first place. The island is buzzing and we found a few items at shops, including neat Maori made New Zealand shirts in correct sizes. We walked and walked and returned to the ship at about 3:45. I used the time to connect to my e-mail by phone and the sun broke through the clouds for the first time today.
Dinner was nice with a menu featuring items from each of the “Culinary council” chefs. I enjoyed the crusted Prime Rib and it was cooked perfectly. We told Wirawan we wanted to attend the “One time” 7:15 show of ‘authentic Maori cultural folklore’ called “Mana: The Prestige.” The dining room was lightly attended and we were finished by 6:45. We attended and enjoyed the show. I like it when the cruise line brings local culture onboard.
After the show we hung out at the Piano Bar waiting for Barry to start. We stayed until about 10:15 and called it a night. The shops had their final blowout sale during the evening and the ladies took a look and made no purchases.
Thursday, January 4, 2018 – Auckland, New Zealand
Today’s storm dumped more rain on Auckland then they received in November and December combined. We had a perfectly nice day. We enjoyed a later breakfast in the dining room and left the ship between rain bands at about 10:00. After talking with a few folks at the information center, we decided the best option to get to the airport the next day was “Super Shuttle” at a cost of $64.48 for the four of us so I made the booking using my phone.
We took a taxi ($20) to the Queen Street cinema and enjoyed the “Only IMAX screen in New Zealand” and watched Star Wars, the Last Jedi. The movie was great. When the movie was over it was totally down pouring so I called an Uber who picked us up promptly and dropped us off right at the cruise terminal. We hardly got wet at all, and the cost was all of $8.51.
We enjoyed lunch on board and then got to the task of packing. We made one suitcase full of “Won’t need this in Fiji” and that was 49.8 lbs. The other suitcase we maxed out also, but we did manage to keep both carry-ons under the Fiji airlines 15 lb. limit.
Dinner was nice and we said farewell to our great staff in the dining room and our room stewards. The show tonight is the “Dancing Keys” of Pianist Adam Johnson. He was very good and also was called back for an encore. Afterwards we enjoyed the Piano Bar one last time. The last two nights Barry had chosen many all-time favorites and it truly has been a lot of fun. We lasted until nearly 10:30 and called it a night.
Friday, January 5 – Auckland – Fiji
The alarm went off at 6:30 and we headed to the dining room for our last breakfast on board at 7:20. Breakfast was good as we watched the wind-swept rain out the windows. Luggage tag numbers were being called early so after gathering our remaining belongings we headed off the ship about 8:15. We quickly found our luggage and a helpful porter gave us a luggage carrier to load it up.
We saw a super shuttle in the lot and inquired of the driver. He made a phone call and confirmed he was not our driver but said they let our driver know we were ready. At about 8:45 we noticed two shuttles in the drive and one of those was for us. There was another couple from the ship on board. Our luggage was loaded and we waited in the van. The driver had one other reservation and that person never showed, so we waited 20 minutes for someone who never showed.
Half-way to the airport the other party’s cell phone rang and they apparently had picked up the wrong piece of luggage. Between there and the airport they and the driver were trying to work out how they were going to fix that situation. We were dropped off immediately in front of the international terminal and walked in the doors to find the Fiji airways luggage drop. As this is a cruise review I am not including our less than incredible visit to Fiji in the review.
We had a really nice cruise on the Maasdam. Honestly, the fact that we spent the three days in Fiji post-cruise gave us a greater appreciation for the cruise. We had generally superb dining, with selections always available and super service from Wirawan and Gede. Our stateroom was kept clean as a whistle and our laundry attended to often returned the same day or the next morning when we were at breakfast. We would have preferred the stateroom a little cooler but it wasn’t so warm that we needed to request a fan, and honestly this is something I never brought to the office’s attention.
The front office folks, while usually very polite, and often terrific, do drop the ball from time to time. Early in the cruise we sent DW’s Red jacket out for dry-cleaning. When she went to put it on for Christmas Eve she discovered a missing button. Yes, they looked for the button but did not find it, and never offered even to credit the dry cleaning charge. The missing button due to the design of the jacket made it unwearable and we just left it at the end of the cruise.
We were disappointed in the stop in Port Dunedin. Not the town’s fault, but what we had wanted to do we couldn’t do as Holland and Princess had chartered out the two trains to the Taleri gorge. I understand the cruise lines making a profit on shore excursions. I have CCL stock, and want them to be successful, but to charge passengers $270 US for a train ride that is available on any day that two ships are not in town for NZ$99 is just wrong. Simply on principle, charging 400% the normal price is not right. The “EXC” excursion price guarantee is a joke as never would every single aspect of a tour be exactly identical.
Most of the ports were great and that is the #1 reason we do a cruise. Entertainment is a weak point on the Maasdam except in the Piano Bar as Barry from Boston is great. I know there will be some changes in the future on Maasdam with more of a port focus and they will lose the singers and dancers. I see that as no great loss. Hopefully local talent will be brought on board, we find that is often the best. We do hope they keep the piano bar in the mix! We greatly enjoyed the Maori ambassadors who were on board for about 6 days and the Maori group that performed in Tauranga.
Maasdam gets a solid 4 stars out of 5. As I’ve mentioned in prior reviews, I don’t see HAL getting five stars any longer due to the many things cut from their cruises. Christmas Eve, for example, was very nice. But, there was no “Christmas around the world” food event like we enjoyed a few years ago on Zaandam. Deck barbeques are history. And many other little things that new cruisers wouldn’t even know about. 4 stars is not at all “Bad,” it’s just not quite what it was when we started cruising in earnest in 2009. I hope we have another chance to sail on Maasdam, they sure have some interesting itineraries in late 2018 and 2019. Read Less
The ship was great, just underwent a refit this past spring. Elevators are extremely fast, service was excellent, easy to get around the ship, food was really good (way better than most lines) and the small details really made a ... Read More
The ship was great, just underwent a refit this past spring. Elevators are extremely fast, service was excellent, easy to get around the ship, food was really good (way better than most lines) and the small details really made a difference. The Casino and bars were great as well! Grandmother, Mother and Father, and 2 teens traveled in 2 Veranda rooms - very comfortable. We dined mainly in the Dining Room for dinner. The selections were top notch - not lobster every night but, some really nice duck breast, halibut, prime rib, rack of lamb, etc. all well prepared, meats were cooked perfectly, sauces were very good, and sides were also good. The Lido restaurant had some great breakfast and lunch offerings - not just leftovers from the dinner before, and dinner there was comparable, on most days, to the dining room just buffet style - and the Dive Inn had delicious, cooked to order burgers and fries daily. One thing we really appreciated was the selections, most of them anyway, were served by kitchen staff instead of "help yourself". It seemed much cleaner, less waste, and fresher.
The casino staff were exceptional on this trip. $6 Black Jack and $5 Craps were available. The dealers were professional, especially the pit bosses, and the servers (Pio in particular) were fantastic. We were never left waiting for a cocktail for more than a few minutes.
Our room attendants were barely seen but, certainly noticed. The rooms were cleaned promptly and quietly.
The spa staff were good. We enjoyed massages although felt pressured to buy over $120 worth of oils immediately AFTER - while still sitting on the massage table. Massages in nice spas are not inexpensive so we thought the pitch while trying to enjoy the relaxation was a bit much.
Other than that specific sales pitch, the Westerdam had very little overzealous photo selling, photo taking, trinket peddling, etc.... although they still have the same "outfits" selling gold plated jewelry at real gold prices, etc. but, they aren't constantly shoving them at you.
Overall a relaxing trip, easy ship to get around on, great dining, and excellent service! Read Less
This was our 8th cruise. Previously we have cruised with Norwegian, Princess, Celebrity, and Holland America.
This was my 3rd Holland America cruise. I had a good experience in the past. The service was superior and the food was ... Read More
This was our 8th cruise. Previously we have cruised with Norwegian, Princess, Celebrity, and Holland America.
This was my 3rd Holland America cruise. I had a good experience in the past. The service was superior and the food was fantastic. But I was disappointed by my recent experience on Koningsdam.
To be fair, the boat is quite new. The bathroom was an upgrade with glass sliding door and more spacious shower room. The shower water pressure was very good but the toilet had bad smell all time even with frequent flush and closed lid. The actual stateroom was smaller than other Holland America ships. Good in room movie selection.
The buffet services was good. The dining room selection was limited and the service was slow and not very diligent. Two nights the server skipped a course of our dinner without informing us.
The fitness center was small. No space for people working on mats by themselves. The studio room was always busy with classes to sell people skin care or shoe inserts.
The evening performance and performance during the day was subpar. No comparison to what we saw on Celebrity and Princess ships.
The casino staff was non-ethical. They kept soliciting my 74 year old mother to gamble more. One night after losing over $1,000 they solicited her to charge to her room another $1,000 at 2:30AM. Of course my mother is an adult and responsible for her actions, but it was non-ethical of the casino staff to keep soliciting a senior with obvious health conditions to gamble more. There was no educational materials to help people with gambling issues displayed in the casino. Most casinos have something educational displayed. Making money is certainly important but it is more important of being a conscientious human kind to not take advantages of the elderly. Read Less
We chose it for the ship, service, and ports! We loved our Eurodam cruise last year , and many of the ship’s features such as high tea,great anytime dining,late shows, large flat screen tv with latest free movies, lovely promenade ... Read More
We chose it for the ship, service, and ports! We loved our Eurodam cruise last year , and many of the ship’s features such as high tea,great anytime dining,late shows, large flat screen tv with latest free movies, lovely promenade deck, great back pool, and delicious food! We liked the ports which required minimum walking to be at a beautiful beach and the incredible barbecue at their private island! The service on this ship is second to none! I wished this time that there had been a quiet band corner playing more often ,where we could sit and relax, as the fantastic piano bar duo were right beside the open concept casino ,which needless to say, was very noisy!
They serve tender beef with expensive cuts, and surf and turf night is standard fare on formal night! Some lines are charging now for lobster! Also, the high tea in the Atrium is a treat and free!
They really have a good set up for anytime dining , and we were seated quickly ! Also , they have a later show so you don’t feel rushed with dinner to get to it! The back pool is never crowded either! There’s always available loungers! Read Less
Wife and I cruised from 12/10-17 on the Eurodam. The vacation was just perfect start to finish. The ship was clean and well kept. Our cabin 4166 was the best verandah on the ship. Why? Two reasons:
1 - The balcony was double-wide giving ... Read More
Wife and I cruised from 12/10-17 on the Eurodam. The vacation was just perfect start to finish. The ship was clean and well kept. Our cabin 4166 was the best verandah on the ship. Why? Two reasons:
1 - The balcony was double-wide giving us more space and better views.
2 - The shower was incredibly powerful, much stronger than what we had on the Zaandam a few months ago.
Dining was fabulous as always. Meals in the dining room ranged from very good to spectacular. Lido food was good but service there was uneven. This was the only area on the entire ship where the service did not meet high standards. They just need more people in there. Room steward was great. Room service was great (although a little early at times). DIning room service was great.
The highlight of the ship was the BB King's Blues Club. Outside of true touring bands (like U2, The Who), this was the best live music I have ever experienced. Each musician was very talented and they played well together. Song choices were very good, atmophere was great, and the room just rocked. If you are a fan of live music, especially blues and blues-rock, choose a ship with the BB King's Blues Club. They were that good.
Lincoln Center Stage performers were talented as well. Great classical music if that's your thing. The Eurodam Performers were good, The Band was so-so. We didn't listen to Billboard On Board enough to rate them, just not our style.
Why did we choose this cruise? We got a great rate on dates we could travel to a warm climate. We also got a cheap upgrade from interior to balcony.
I would not recommend HAL to families with children. There were very few children on board and few activities catered to them. However, if you are a couple, especially an older one, this line will work for you. Read Less
We wanted to try the new ship and also liked the ports as we are avid snorkel enthusiasts. We flew down 2 days early and stayed in the GalleryOne hotel which is on the water taxi stop. This was an early celebration for our 35th ... Read More
We wanted to try the new ship and also liked the ports as we are avid snorkel enthusiasts. We flew down 2 days early and stayed in the GalleryOne hotel which is on the water taxi stop. This was an early celebration for our 35th anniversary.
Embarkation-we got there early and being 4* were sent upstairs. The staff explained to all that we would embark by the rows in order of when people showed up. However, she walked away and a male then came and said all 4* and 5 * can board now and it was chaos. Disembarkation was smooth-we took expedited because we had an early flight.
Our Signature cabin was fantastic. We were surprised to see a murphy bed in it. The one disappointment is the bathroom-as most others have stated the angle of the toilet is very strange. We are also used to having a shower stall and a bathtub/shower combination in the previous Neptune or Signature Suites we have been in. In our suite this time there is
no combination bathtub/shower and the shower stall is smaller. (we checked in a friends cabin that was in a regular balcony and their shower stall was wider). This can create issues for large/tall people.
Service was excellent. Our room stewards were fabulous. All staff seem very happy.
We did 8 HAL excursions and all snorkel ones. Most were fine but one was over crowded which made for a safety issue.
We dined in the MDR (had as you wish dining) a few times and service was great and when we requested a table for 2 always got it. The Lido was great. Loved the Gelato (milkshakes were delicious). We dined in the Pinnacle a couple of times and seemed like there was more staff and service and food was excellent.
Entertainment still lacks on HAL especially after the BBKings finish. We did find them repetitive after awhile too. The World Stage productions were good and we liked that there were usually 3 show times you could choose from but again-being on a longer cruise some of the productions were repeats.
The aft pool seems smaller than normal which was a disappointment as we like to be in the pool a lot. Read Less
My husband and I chose this ship because of the itinerary..... 14 days and 9 ports (St. Thomas, St. Kitts, St. Lucia, Barbados, Granada, Guadeloupe, St. Johns Antiqua, and Puerto Rico) that we had not been to in the Caribbean and then ... Read More
My husband and I chose this ship because of the itinerary..... 14 days and 9 ports (St. Thomas, St. Kitts, St. Lucia, Barbados, Granada, Guadeloupe, St. Johns Antiqua, and Puerto Rico) that we had not been to in the Caribbean and then their private island Half Moon Cay.
This was a smaller ship than we were used to with HAL(Eurodam and the Norsdam), but because it was smaller and 300 rooms were cancelled due to the Hurricanes, we got excellent service. I might go as far as saying Impeccable service. The embarkation and disembarkation went so smooth and fast that it was unbelievable. There were no crowds at all, just smooth sailing on and off the ship. Very impressive.
As I mentioned, this was a smaller ship and also an older ship. You could smell in some hallways mildew or mold in some spots which they tried to remedy with blowers and deodorizers. However, you can't fix ratted and torn carpets around the elevators and in the cabins and in some areas in the cabin it felt like buckled floors under the carpet. But the decor was very very nice and clean. The bathrooms were up to date and clean also.
Dinning was exceptional in the MDR. The service and presentation was just IMPECCABLE...The only thing I would site would be how cold it was. Everyone was wearing coats or heavy sweaters to eat and of course we complained, but nothing was done until the very last night. Very dissappointing,...we tried going to the Lido deck a couple of times to eat but there wasn't a variety of food and it was too cold in there to. We also tried room service, the food was great as in the MDR and Lido deck, but it had limited selections. As a result of the coldness, many of the passengers came down with colds including my husband, which put a damper on our festivities because we were celebrating our 50th wedding anniversary!!!
The shore excursions were too expensive from the ship so we took tours from the outside Van services. We enjoyed the tours and if you are in Barbados, be sure to ask for Carlos and his tours, and if in Guadeloupe try and get Max and his tours. Both of these were quite informative and interesting.
I don't know if I would take the Veedam again, because it may be too small for my taste, but definitely cruise with HAL again!!!!! Read Less
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