Our expectations were low for the soon-to-be sold, frequently disrespected Statendam, but this was a very pleasant 15-day sailing through the Panama Canal. We’ve been on a cruise hiatus for six years, seven since our last HAL booking.
We had a concern about possible service lapses and deteriorating conditions on a ship about to be removed from Holland service. The worry was unfounded.
The ship: Recent reviews have cited justifiable flaws. Many, such as shabby linens or worn carpet, seem to have been addressed. To be honest, I found the Statendam to be in about the same shape as her sister, the Maasdam, when we sailed on that ship in 2002.
This is a comfy, tidy vessel. To check, I reached up and ran my fingers over a ceiling light fixture in the atrium – no dust. We love the compact size and the generous space devoted to public areas. Walking the wraparound teak deck is a joy that could disappear from Holland in the next decade. We also enjoy the large library and the Explorations Café. There are plenty of places to sit and enjoy days at sea. Code orange was not invoked automatically at boarding.
Stateroom: We had a large outside cabin on the lower promenade deck, located just off the atrium. It was a great location with easy walking access to activity decks. We were apprehensive about a window on the busy promenade, but no one can see in during the day (unless they press their face against the window, and then it would be a shadowy peep at best). Our attendant Ludfi introduced himself, always greeted us and fulfilled several requests without a problem. After our last cruise on another line, we thought this kind of steward had become extinct. The room was clean. The thermostat worked and there were no odors, which have been problems on these ships in the past. The tub drain was slow, but we didn’t bother to report it.
Dining: We were assigned open seating in the Rotterdam Dining Room. Upon boarding, we sought a table for two reserved every night. To do this, you can go to the reservation station in the Lido upon boarding, but I misunderstood and wound up having the front desk do it on the second day, and that worked. Some people have reported staffing cutbacks, but our servers, Widi and assistant Ade, couldn’t served us as if we were their only two passengers. Water glasses were constantly refilled, every course was checked for satisfaction and we had time for chitchat with them. They were indeed whirlwinds, though. The tables were set elegantly and the bread basket was like a Christmas stocking. The menu was varied with excellent choices. The quality of the meat may be down slightly from years ago. The special international menu on the last night was the best. We ate in the Pinnacle twice. The quality was better than the dining room, but, truthfully, it wasn’t an Oz-like experience for me, and the service seemed slow. \
How about the rest? Well, we don’t use room service. At breakfast, we ate early in the Lido, usually just simple stuff, but I noticed good, efficient service whenever we did get eggs or something special. At lunch, we usually stick to salads. The salad bar was smaller than in the past, but it was good quality and more than enough. In fact, this helped speed up the line. Trays are gone and instead of one long universal line there are specialty stations. This is faster and cuts food waste. I thought there were lots of good selections and prompt service. I like the ice cream, and it was available all afternoon. We used the Dive-In for hamburgers twice, and they were great, with terrific fries. The wait can be 20 minutes or so at busy times although they give you a handheld buzzer to let you know when it’s ready. Some people gave up, and slammed the buzzer down after 10 minutes. They probably ought to warn you of the current wait time.
Only on a few days did it take effort to find Lido seating. On short port days especially, people would return hungry from tours all at once. On embarkation day, we went to the Rotterdam for lunch, and it was excellent.
There were only three formal nights, including one after a long port day in Costa Rica, which seemed odd. Passengers were generally well-dressed every night. On one formal night, I noticed a man without a jacket being turned away. In the Pinnacle, there were lots of jackets or suits even on casual nights.
Drink servers still were quiet and polite, not intrusive as on some lines.
Entertainment and activities: The headline talent was the best we’ve had on any cruise: Magician, soloists, comedian, ventriloquist. We didn’t attend cast shows. Guitar soloist Ben, the Adagio duo, Jennie and HALcats and David Anthony, all were good. We like Adagio and were concerned it’s a duo and not trio, but it makes sense with the downsized venue.
Location guide Wallis gave great port previews and would answer questions at her lobby desk or on the dock. Cruise director Rick Barnes was extremely good. We went to a very good culinary arts presentation. Both protestant and Catholic clergy were aboard, instead of just one, with many services. The Techspert lectures always had a line, although we didn’t attend. Future cruise consultant Shelly was helpful. The barista at Explorations was cheerful even if you weren’t buying. The librarian was also very helpful. That’s all we can give firsthand comments on.
Passengers: This was a very nice, polite, classy group, the majority, of course, being seniors. Only two or three children were aboard with zero teens seen. Lots of German, Canadian and British passengers, but U.S. was majority. Our Cruise Critic members were extremely pleasant and we shared quite a few tours. A gathering took place the second day in the Crow’s Nest. HAL provided cookies and beverages, but did not send a representative.
Ports: We flew in four days early to visit our family in San Diego.
Embarkation: We dropped our car off at the airport Avis at 10:40 a.m. You can leave your bags in the car and ask them to drive you to the port if they’re not busy. It’s only a mile or two to the terminal, where we were greeted by a porter, who took our bags. You go through security, then can register any carry-on wine and finally fill out the medical questionnaire. To get your cabin cards, you enter a long line, but it moved quickly and within 20 minutes we were directed to some seats to await boarding, maybe another 25 minutes. There might have been 400 waiting and we had been assigned boarding groups, which they began calling at about noon, and zipped along. If you hit the terminal shortly after noon, you probably would whip through the whole process, but it was pretty painless for us. We went to the Mariner’s luncheon in the main dining room. Before we left port, there was a life boat drill, no lifejacket required, but they are militant about your attendance.
Puerto Vallarta, Mexico: We did not book a tour. We thought we’d just sightsee. Thanks to misreading the map, we took a 5-mile hike (not recommended) past the resort hotels to the Malecon, the Oceanside concrete boardwalk with shops, sculptures, artists and vendors. Interesting, but just OK. We took a local bus back for 10 pesos each. In San Diego, we had picked up $100 U.S. in pesos from our bank. Except for the bus, our credit card would have worked for everything we did. We had a bumpy bus ride with a close look at local streets. Near the cruise port, there is a Walmart and a big mall, where we went to Starbucks and used the internet. You can see the mall from the ship, but it’s at least a half-mile walk. There are a few shops near the gangway, too.
Hutaluco, Mexico: This is a picturesque fishing village. We docked beside a U.S. Coast Guard vessel. Before our HAL sailboat tour, we visited the shopping area then joined our group for a stroll to the marina. We cruised along the rocky coast, visiting a number of bays, stopping at a national park for a dip. You had to swim to the beach. The water was warm. About half the small group stayed aboard. There were plenty of drinks and the guide was good. This is the only port where you could walk off the ship to a beach, but I’m glad we took the tour.
Puerto Chiapas: Beautiful docking area with huge thatched visitor center, including about a dozen shops, a pool and landscaped grounds. It is small and isolated, however. You would need a tour or local transportation to the nearest town, which didn’t draw any raves in our research. We enjoyed a sunny day by the ship’s pool.
Puerto Quetzal, Guatemala: An industrial container port, but with a cruise dock and a long ramp to a visitor’s center, surrounded by scores of neat stalls with local vendors. We took the HAL coffee estate and Antigua tour. Being at the end of the tour line meant we got on the small but cushy van instead of the large bus. We navigated heavy container traffic, and then saw cane fields and volcanoes during our 90-minute ride to Antigua. We visited the Filadelfia coffee plantation, which met Disney standards, for a very good tour and the best meal of our two weeks. We visited the Jade museum, commercial but good, and then had time to explore the market square, where there are swarms of persistent vendors. You can shoo them or bargain, but you might do just as well to get the same trinkets back at the dock.
Corinto, Nicaragua: Our Cruise Critic group booked an independent tour to Leon with Julio. This is a container port with no cruise facilities. We had an hour-plus ride in another small van, with a stop to view the volcano. In Leon, grittier and poorer than Antigua, we visited a huge, enclosed market, a hectic, jammed place with hundreds of merchants, which makes you appreciate North American hygiene. We rode tricycle taxis to the historical Cathedral and square, where the vendors were not so pesky. Due to a shortened call, our group nixed a trip to the art museum, opting for lunch and local beer a very nice hotel restaurant.
Puntarenas, Costa Rica: Another Cruise Critic tour with Odyssey and guide Exon in a nice van for a busy day. We stopped to see monkeys, visited a fruit stand for drinks, traveled up a mountain, took a boat ride on a river teeming with birds and crocs, stopped to see wild scarlet macaws, ate a delicious restaurant lunch, shopped at a modern market for local crafts and then motored around Puntarenas. Whew. Everything was included. This is a cruise port where you could walk around town, but you should get out and see the many sights.
Cartagena, Colombia: Be sure to be on deck for the ship’s circuitous approach to this city of gleaming skyscrapers. We docked at another container port, but there was a nice welcome center with a department-store quality shop and vest-pocket zoo. Here our Cruise Critic group booked with Dora for another van tour. This may have been the most prosperous location we called, but with the wildest traffic. We visited many sights, each time encountering scores of fellow passengers on large bus tours.
Tour and port overview: In some of these places, you’ll see terrible poverty and iron bars on all windows. That said, we never felt unsafe on any tour or walk. Puerto Vallarta and Puntarenas were probably the only places you could walk to see much of anything. You could have wandered around all of Huatulco in a few minutes, and it was the only good, close beach. This is the first time we booked independent tours. On the plus side, we enjoyed spending time with the same Cruise Critic crowd, probably saw more and saved a little. On the other hand, it took effort confirming the tours ahead of time, then dealing with last-minute changes to our arrival times. In Costa Rica, the ship delayed departure for an hour waiting for a HAL tour delayed by an accident. Don’t know if they’d hold for an independent tour. On the whole, the itinerary did not seem promising or exciting, but it turned out to be quite enjoyable. On port days, there was never a difficult crush to get off the ship. Only in Corinto was there a lineup on the stairway, but it moved rapidly.
Panama Canal: Now, I’m glad we did a full transit from the Pacific rather than enter from the Atlantic for a full transit or the peek-a-boo visit. It is spectacular to approach Panama City at dawn, another gleaming metropolis, glide past scores of waiting cargo ships and then pass through the different sets of locks and cruise under two bridges. We awoke at 5 a.m. and were on the Lido deck in front of the gym at 5:30. It was a good location, shaded from the sun and catching a nice breeze. It was difficult, however, to always hear the excellent narration over the loudspeaker. The rails along the forward decks filled up just before 8 a.m. The ship followed the published schedule almost to the minute. After clearing the San Miguel locks, we went to a table by the Lido pool, where we could get a good view of the construction for the new canal. After 11, we went to the Crow’s Nest for a comfortable vista of our sail through the Culebra cut and across the lake. When we got to the Gatun locks, we went down to the lower promenade deck, and it was fascinating to be so close to the trains and workers. You really should move all around the ship.
Sea Days: We enjoy being out on deck. On this cruise, only the first day was uncomfortably windy. By the time we neared Panama, the sun became pretty intense. Even with an older crowd aboard, deck chairs hard to find between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. a lot of days. Aft on deck 9 has room for a dozen chairs where you are protected and unbothered, so we sat there a lot. It seems the more we cruise, the more we enjoy just reading or walking the promenade, appreciating the ocean. So, that’s why I can’t report on team trivia, Dancing with the Stars or other activities. From the deck, there were lots of birds, dolphins and whales to see.
Disembark: We arrived on time in Fort Lauderdale. We were off in the third group by 8:45. We exited customs in about half an hour, but it might have taken a little longer for those behind us. We took a taxi to the airport, for our 12:55 p.m. flight.
Summary: Of 11 cruises, including five on HAL, this was our favorite, particularly for entertainment, quality of ship and service. It will be sad not to have another chance to sail on the Statendam.