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Sail Date: October 2008
We have just returned home from our first cruise with Holland America. They are now my favorite cruise line. We decided on this 20 day cruise (two back to back cruises) because it looked like an interesting itinerary. Instead the ship ... Read More
We have just returned home from our first cruise with Holland America. They are now my favorite cruise line. We decided on this 20 day cruise (two back to back cruises) because it looked like an interesting itinerary. Instead the ship turned out to be the ultimate destination. Embarkation We joined the cruise by taking an overnight train from our home in Moncton, NB to Montreal, PQ. A short taxi ride to the cruise terminal and we then has one of the fastest and most efficient embarkations that we have ever experienced. It rated right up there with Dover and Southampton as efficient embarkation locations. Proud to be a Canadian, eh ! Our Stateroom I did the booking and asked for a guaranteed outside cabin. I have learned my lesson and will not do that again as we definitely prefer a midship cabin. Our cabin was at the absolute aft next to the winches which meant whenever we arrived at a port of call we were awakened, long before the ship actually docked, by a stream of mechanical noises. This meant being awake at 5 and 6 on mornings when we reached a port of call. The cabin itself was a good size - holding a queen sized bed, two good bedside tables with proper drawers, not just open shelves; a comfortable sofa, a dressing table, good drawer space, a closet for each of us and a good sized bathroom with tub as well as shower. We actually had more storage space than we used - something that has never happened before. It also had a DVD player in addition to the television. In a word - delighted with the cabin - just not in the best location on the ship. As I said before - I did the booking - my mistake. At the end of the first part of the cruise I could have asked for a change in cabin for the second cruise - however our cabin stewards Chairil and Edy were so fantastic - I did not want to lose them to gain a better room. The Ship Maasdam was a revelation to us. This was not the usual cruise ship. This was a classic ocean liner from days of old - full of beautiful woodwork and gleaming brass. The ship was gorgeous - built with good taste and elegance. Something of beauty could be seen in each of the public rooms - whether it was walls and ceilings or floors, lighting fixtures, or the gorgeous art and paintings displayed throughout the ship. The art brought back the glory days of the Dutch East India Company. We borrowed the iPods available at the Exploration Cafe and spent a lovely afternoon exploring the ship and learning about all the lovely things that decorated her. Don't miss the opportunity to do this when on board. Dining The food on this ship was the best we have ever experienced on a ship. I have had some marvelous meals on other cruises but these were always in their specialty restaurants - in this case the gastronomic wonders were in the main restaurant and the food in the Lido Cafe and on deck was also excellent. In fact - the food was so good that we never did visit the specialty restaurant - for the first time on a cruise. It was a feast for the eyes as well as the taste buds and if I could have brought one of the chefs home with me I would have happily done so. The main reason we had not sailed on Holland America in the past was because we do not like Traditional dining. Now that there is a choice in dining we are just delighted. Those that love the traditional style can still have it and those of us that prefer to make our own choices as to dining time and dining companions also have that choice. Well done - Holland America! Entertainment Firstly, Michelle Worthley is the best cruise director we have ever encountered. She is charming, personable, very hard working, and more importantly - she listens to the passengers and acts on their suggestions. There was a great variety in entertainment around the ship and in guest entertainers. There is something for everyone. As well, there was an abundance of choice in activities to attend on board - everything from the usual bingo and trivia to wonderful lectures, cooking classes, dance classes, liquor tastings and lectures, home dining table setting instruction and the list goes on and on. If one wished to be active and involved - they were spoiled for choice. The production numbers in the evenings featured the most fantastic costumes (and the most costume changes) that we have ever seen. Very theatrical and worth seeing for the costumes alone. We would usually dine early - go to the early show and then go dancing for the rest of the evening. We were just delighted, as were many other dancers, with the music of Deep Blue, the trio from Acapulco, who played each night in the Ocean lounge. They were wonderful to dance to and added a lot of pleasurable hours to our cruise. Spa I visited the spa twice on this cruise (I normally go more frequently on a cruise but there was so much to do on ship that I simply could not find the free time for extra visits). On both occasions the ladies who looked after me did so wonderfully. Ship Atmosphere One of the most noticeable things on board was the absence of noise. There were not the blaring announcements all day urging one to get to bingo or the casino or buy scratch cards or T-shirts. Instead there was a message when we reached a port telling passengers when we could go ashore. The Captain made an announcement around noon each day telling the location of the ship and weather and other pertinent items, followed by a short announcement from the cruise director; otherwise peace generally reigned supreme. In areas where music was played - it was appropriate to the surroundings. There were two excellent pianists on board, Alan and Steven, each with their own style, who added to our enjoyment of the cruise. A lovely trio of ladies from Russia entertained with violin, viola and piano in one of the lounges and in the dining room at the start of dinners. Alan also frequently played for the afternoon teas and the Captain's cocktail parties. There were also many lovely quiet areas throughout the ship - where one could sit and read, play a game of cards or one of the other many games available, watch the waves or simply snooze. We really appreciated the quiet areas - it makes for a much more restful and relaxing holiday when one is not constantly bombarded with unnecessary announcements. The whole atmosphere on the ship was one of elegance and good taste and was much appreciated. Special Touches This was a revelation to us. The ship is a real 'class act' with all sorts of little touches we have not encountered on other cruise lines. For example, there are lovely canapes served in the lounges at different times, the nice piano music at tea time and the trio at the start of dinners, plus the nice touch of cool towels to refresh before boarding ship after a hot day in the Caribbean. The photography staff was a world apart from that on other cruise lines. They were not constantly in one's face to take pictures but discretely available when wanted and set up conveniently for formal night photos. No tacky pictures with staff in outlandish costumes. The staff there was friendly and helpful and we appreciated that. Unlike some other cruise lines - recipes are not a closely guarded secret. They offer cooking classes and show how to prepare various dishes and, best of all, they have available a cookbook of their recipes which I purchased. I am really looking forward to preparing some of those wonderful dishes. The Maasdam has one of the largest libraries I have seen aboard a ship - well displayed and organized - and also a DVD library. Although I was too busy on ship to find time to just watch a movie in my cabin - I was impressed that something like this was available. There is a movie theater on ship and a different movies is shown several times each day so that one can certainly enjoy a film if they wish. We were very surprise and pleased by the way we were treated on the ship. I am not talking about normal ship service as really staff had always been good to us on any ship we have been on. We found the staff on this ship to be unfailingly friendly and courteous and by the third day most of them were addressing us by name (a feat which never ceases to amaze me considering the number of people they see). We were spoiled far beyond anything we deserved by all and sundry on the ship and they are responsible for the wonderful holiday we enjoyed. What really surprised us was the fact that on the first day of the second part of our cruise we found a bottle of Champagne, a basket of fruit and a plate of chocolate covered strawberries and other goodies waiting for us in our cabin - as a thank you for having booked a back to back cruise. That most definitely impressed us. We have sailed many times on other cruise lines and have had to get up to their top loyalty level to receive similar goodies. This was our first and second cruise with HAL's Maasdam. We also were invited to a wonderful Mariner's Brunch as a thank you for being Holland America customers as well as the Captain's cocktail party. We were royally treated on board this ship! Ports of Call Quebec City - We were docked in the heart of the city - right below the Chateau Frontenac so we had wonderful views from the ship when we woke up in the morning. We simply walked up to the Funicular and took it up to the 'Old Town' and had a marvellous time strolling around and seeing the sights. Dave and been there before but this was my first visit to Quebec and it was a delight to see the lovely old architecture and see the cobbled streets in the Old Town - so reminiscent of old European cities. Since we were there on a Sunday, it was not possible to go into the old churches as services were taking place. It was a beautiful day - perfect for taking pictures and enjoying the sights and sounds of the city. Having had a taste of Quebec City - I definitely want to return there and spend more time in the area. We really enjoyed seeing the ship sailing down the St. Lawrence river and seeing Gaspe as we sailed past it. The leaves were turning and the scenery was very pretty and it was a whole different kind of holiday for us (seeing Canadian areas instead of going to Europe or elsewhere). It was a treat to see a bit of our own country for a change. Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island - Living within a two hour drive of Charlottetown, I have visited it and the Island many times however this is the first time I have ever arrived there by ship. I would have loved to have been awake to see the ship passing under the Confederation Bridge early in the morning - but I slept through that. Since we had a very hectic summer at home and really just wanted to relax a bit on the first part of the trip we simply walked into the main part of town to see if I could purchase an item I had forgotten to pack. It was a rainy day - the weather was not the best at Charlottetown, Sydney or Halifax - and after our shopping expedition we returned back to the ship as felt the best times to explore it more would be on port days when there were less passengers ashore. There is a lot to see around Charlottetown and Prince Edward Island for a new visitor to the area and we heard that those who toured around enjoyed it. For us - the first part of our cruise was for rest and relaxation. Sydney, Nova Scotia - This was my first visit to Sydney and I got to see a bit of it. I plan to come back again in the summer time as I want to visit Ft. Louisbourg when it is fully staffed to recreate the times when it was an active fortress. While others went sightseeing - Dave and I went shopping. We really enjoyed looking at local crafts and one cannot leave without taking a picture of a piper and the world's largest fiddle. Halifax, Nova Scotia - Once again we are a two hour drive from home and have visited Halifax many times. We strolled along the waterfront a bit and then decided to head back to the ship as it was again drizzly and grey. He went aboard and I headed over to the nearest Superstore to pick up a local paper to see what had been going on for the last 5 days and get some of my favorite chips and dip. Yes I know there is a ton of food on board ship - but some things are hard to leave behind. Okay - I have no will power. Bar Harbor, Maine - Once I got past the shock of spelling harbor without the 'u' I really enjoyed that little port of call. It was a brilliant day - sunshine, bright blue skies, light breeze and gorgeous fall foliage. It was a charming little town - very similar to so many Maritime towns - and we thoroughly enjoyed strolling around it and visiting different craft shops and stores and window-shopping. The bay and hills surrounding the area were picture perfect. Fort Lauderdale - although forced to leave the ship for a short period - we promptly returned to it and spent an interesting day on board. Part of that was watching a boat/catamaran that had become beached and watching a helicopter up top observing and a half dozen tugboats trying diligently to remove the aforementioned catamaran. We have been in Lauderdale many times in the past and had no desire to get off the ship that day. We had to say good-bye to some new friends we had met on the first cruise and that night felt like "our ship" had been invaded by strangers. Luckily there were a large number of passengers that were staying on the ship for the whole 20 nights so there were lots of familiar faces. St, Maarten - While we were still in Ft. Lauderdale, Captain Draper announced that there was a hurricane in the area and it was being closely tracked and he would take whatever steps were necessary to avoid it for the safety of the passengers and crew. As it became apparent that the hurricane would be hitting St. Maarten, he announced that we would not be stopping at St. Marten and there would be a change in sailing route to keep all safe. Although some were disappointed (Dave and I among them as we love hurricanes) we warmly applaud the Captain for not only making the most responsible decision to ensure the safety of all but also for keeping the passengers fully informed about the weather situation and what must be done. Anyone who books passage on any ship during hurricane season should be fully aware that storms can interfere with itineraries and if they don't like it - should pick another time of year to sail. St. Lucia - This was our next port of call and we certainly could tell a hurricane had been in the region. We got a local taxi to tour around the city of Castries and out in the country a bit. Dave had been here back in 1981 and there were places he wanted to see again so we did our own touring. The humidity was absolutely awful - as a result of all the rains that accompanied the hurricane. Fortunately this island did not seem to have suffered any severe damage - though we saw where a bit of a mud slide had occurred once or twice. We got to our first scenic lookout and had to wend our way through a variety of local folks all eager to sell us things. This is done sometimes by pressing a 'gift' on the unwary tourist and then demanding a 'gift' in return. My response if it is not something I wish to purchase is"oh I could not possibly accept a gift like that - after all- this is your livelihood". That usually stops further attempts. Of course - if it is something I really want - then I purchase it. We toured around for about two and a half hours - visited a little fishing village - purchased some spices and spiced rum and eventually returned to the ship. Before boarding the ship we met a wonderful young local artist there at the port and purchased a small, beautiful carving done on local wood - a wonderful souvenir of our visit there. The island was beautiful - especially after we set sail and went to the far side of the Island - Soufriere - to pick up some of the passengers who had longer tours. That part of the Island was very untouched and absolutely gorgeous. Barbados - Our next port of call was Bridgetown. We had not booked a tour - planning to take the local shuttle in to town. It was a Sunday and we did not realize at first that most things would be closed. We left the ship and headed for the sign marked shuttle. There was no shuttle there at that time and a bit further away was a sign saying Line up for shuttle so we headed over there. There was a flock (and I use that term advisedly) of taxis and drivers there and someone who appeared to be in charge approached us and offered taxi service. I said it would have to be very well air-conditioned as we found the heat with the humidity very oppressive so he said - yes have a taxi for you - good air-conditioning and called to one of the drivers. I tried to ask the driver what the cost would be and where all he would take us - but he kept heading for his car as fast as he could and did not answer. When we reached the cab we sat in and I said - what can you offer us and how much will it cost? When he said it would be $120 for a two hour tour of the islands I said no thank you and got out of the taxi. At that points I guess we became fair game as we were swarmed by a pack of taxi drivers (much like a flock of vultures) all offering lower fares than the others and at that point it looked like a fight was about to break out among them. I looked at Dave and said - Back to the ship - we don't need this. We headed back to the ship and stopped in to visit the shops right on the dock and I wound up purchasing a little cotton dress that would be a bit cooler to wear and a couple of Steel Band CDs so our stop in Barbados was not a total loss. I must stress here that this was not a fault in any way of the ship. I think if we had taken a ship tour we would have enjoyed that, but we are never sure until the last moment if we will be up to a tour or not. We were certainly not at all impressed with the taxis and the attitude of the drivers there and I have no desire to visit Barbados again simply because of that incident. Martinique - We docked Fort-de-France and strolled off the boat to be greeted by smiling "Bienvenue"s and the sound of music. Just past a few craft stalls was a lovely lady with a great voice singing with her back up music to welcome travelers. We listened to her for awhile and then started walking toward the steeple of the cathedral. We wound our way through charming streets with French names and found the cathedral and visited inside. I have seen assorted churches and cathedrals on past visits to different islands and this one was charming - with lovely stained glass windows and a beautiful balcony inside - reminiscent of the balconies outside on the houses lining the streets. We strolled towards the park where I had hoped to see the statue, albeit decapitated, of the Empress Josephine, but it was not to be as local improvement work was being done and the park was fenced off from visitors. We passed gorgeous pastry shops and held on grudging to our will power. We found a large local craft market and I had a lovely time admiring the work and chatting to the vendors. I saw some beautiful carvings called the Spirit of Woman done in assorted local woods. I would have really loved to purchase one to take home but our packing space was really limited. On reflection - I should have bought one as we wound up buying a HAL collapsible suitcase to put our extra goodies in. There were a lot of interesting items in that market. Once again the heat and humidity were getting to us so we wended our way back to the ship - stopping to listen to the lovely singer again. I would have happily purchased a CD if there had been any available. Suddenly the heavens opened, tourists scrambled for cover and I happily danced in the rain to her great music - the first time I was truly cool on the islands! Tortola - We docked at Road Town in Tortola and when we walked a short way from the ship were politely met by a gentleman who asked if we would like a tour of the island. I said we had problems with heat and he told us he could guarantee we would be comfortable on a tour up in the mountains as there was a wonderful breeze there. The taxis there were basically brightly painted mini-buses with open sides. Another dozen people joined us and we drove off. The driver gave an excellent commentary around the way. Tortola is British and that was obvious by the method of driving, the roundabouts full of flowers and the ads for British products in the shops we passed. We spent a marvelous four and a half hours for the grand sum of $20 a person and saw beautiful sights, stopped at great look-outs to take pictures, had a trip to a wonderful Rum distillery that has been family owned and is still in production and sampled (and purchased) some excellent rum. Then we went to a beautiful beach and we were told we could have about 40 minutes there. As I had not planned on something like this I did not have a bathing suit with me - but I was not going to let that stop me. I went into the Caribbean in my T-shirt and my shorts and had a marvelous swim for a half an hour! Then if anyone had seen after they would have had hysterics as I tried drying myself off with paper towel in the ladies room. We had a wonderful time on Tortola - the driver was as good as his word - it was cool and comfortable. The local sellers we met were polite and not pushy and the whole experience was such that we definitely want to return to Tortola for a holiday sometime in the future! Half Moon Cay - This was to be our last stop - a private island in the Bahamas. It certainly appeared to be beautiful from the ship however it was not meant to be. It was necessary to tender from the ship to shore and the seas were rough and there were very strong winds. The Captain made an announcement that we would not be able to go ashore at 8:30 but said he would wait there for a few hours in case the winds dropped enough to make tendering safe so that we could enjoy some time there. The winds never did drop and so we could not visit that port of call, disappointing for some passengers and some staff too, I am sure - however that was the best decision to make. It would have been awful to try tendering and have passengers thrown about and ill in the small boats. Itinerary Issues We were really impressed by the way the Captain made the best decisions for all in the interest of the safety and well-being of both passengers and staff - and the fact that he kept us aware of what decisions were being made. Not only that - when we had to miss ports of call because of weather issues - an announcement was made that the port charges we had paid for those locations would be automatically refunded to our ship board accounts - without anyone having to request this. Disembarkation This was also well organized by the ship. We had the choice of waiting comfortably in either our staterooms or in public areas of the ship until our color card was announced and then when we went ashore our luggage was all neatly sorted and easy for us to find. The only problem in disembarkation was the inefficiency of the Customs service which only had two agents on duty to handle more than a thousand disembarking passengers and some crew who where leaving on well-deserved holidays. The lack of sufficient agents caused the delays and hold-ups. Everything that was organized by Holland American staff in our 20 days was efficiently done. Summing Up - A wonderful cruise, beautiful ship and great staff. Number one in my rating. We've already put deposits down for more cruises with Holland America. Read Less

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