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20 Norfolk to Caribbean - Eastern Cruise Reviews

this was the second cruise for my wife and I both being on Carnival. The first was a 5 day cruise last Oct. out of Norfolk Va and the second being this past week on an 8 day cruise also out of Norfolk .Everything on board was exceptional ... Read More
this was the second cruise for my wife and I both being on Carnival. The first was a 5 day cruise last Oct. out of Norfolk Va and the second being this past week on an 8 day cruise also out of Norfolk .Everything on board was exceptional from Guys Burgers to Farenheight555 to the evening dining room meals. They fed you well. Entertainment every evening was great especially the Hypnosis show. We laughed so hard through the whole show. All personnel made you feel welcome the entire cruise. On shore we enjoyed the bus tour at Amber Cove. 80 % of the people there drive small Moped scooters . Couldn't believe they sometimes haul the whole family on one scooter as many as 10 in one instance. The liquor was very cheap there along with the tobacco products. Grand Turk was beautiful and the ocean water crystal clear where you could see all different color fish swimming right around you. I got to experience a $20 cheeseburger and the wife got a great $20 taco salad. Little pricey but really good. The ride on board the ship was somewhat rough due to heavy winds both going and coming back and the emergency medical detour to Nassau on the way back was a first for us. This had to be done and hopefully the patient recovers. We just got an extra 5 hour cruise out of it. The ones with plane tickets may have had to make some changes but everyone never complained that we know of. Once we got to the terminal things did not go as well as everyone including us hoped for. They didn't have enough help lined up to unload all the suitcases off the ship into the customs area. It was over 4 hours before we got to customs and we were ones of the first due to my disability. We finally left at 4 pm and were originally supposed to disembark about 11 a.m. The ship was supposed to be in South Carolina for another cruise leaving at 7 p.m. so don't know how Carnival handles something like this? Norfolk needs to be better organized at this terminal or they will lose all cruises out of here! Not blaming the cruise line at all. Read Less
Sail Date October 2016
CRUISING WITH A FAMILY OF 107 KIDS PLUS AN INFANT 7 RCCL cruises, and I'd have to say this might have been the best one yet! I'm trying to think of something negative to say, but there's really nothing worth complaining ... Read More
CRUISING WITH A FAMILY OF 107 KIDS PLUS AN INFANT 7 RCCL cruises, and I'd have to say this might have been the best one yet! I'm trying to think of something negative to say, but there's really nothing worth complaining about. Its sad that anyone reading this will get no help from embarkation and dis-em info because the last RCCL cruise from Norfolk has left for the season - Norfolk was a beautiful port to cruise from, and the ship had a true air of Southern hospitality from all the Virginians, Kentuckians, No. Carolinians on board. Pre-Cruise: Spent a night in a local hotel, had friends drive us to the port in the morning, left our two cars in the hotel lot for free. Spent $100 for a hotel room which included a dinner and breakfast, as opposed to spending $135 to park at the port. For anyone reading this, wherever you cruise from, if driving, look into hotel deals that will include parking - many offer such deals, they just don't advertise them. Embarkation: A breeze except for traffic. Arrived 11:30AM - minor lines, onboard within 15 minutes. Up to the Windjammer to begin a week of 5 to 6 meals a day. Cabins were available at 1PM. Cabins: Minor disappointment that nothing noticeable was done to cabins at Drydock. There was some wear to the woodwork, but everything was spotlessly clean and in perfect working order. We had a D1 balcony stateroom. The balcony is about 4 by 6 - very small with two chairs and a table, but useful. Two cabins (7626 & 7628, adjoining) for the six of us which included a 1 year old. Very comfortable beds (even the sofa bed - futon) in my opinion. Our pre-night stay was in a very nice 3 star hotel with very soft mattresses which messed up my back - it took a couple of nights on RCCL's fine bedding to get it back to normal. Typical RCCL bathroom with a shower curtain. If you bring some small weights (fridge clip-on magnets worked great) and attach them to the shower curtain it stays in place. Otherwise the shower curtain will be your best friend throughout the cruise. Storage space was more than we've had in other cabins - quite sufficient. RIDDLE #1: Why do wives appreciate the toilets on cruise ships? Answer: Because husbands have to close the lid to flush and therefore can't leave the seat up. Food: No complaints here. The five adults among us were totally pleased with all our Dining Room dinners. Our 1 Year Old granddaughter was treated like an absolute princess everywhere onboard, but especially in the DR. After our first night a bowl of diced fruit was waiting for her every night as we came to dinner, and they truly fawned over her (and all of us for that matter), at each dinner. We had one lunch (last day) in the DR, and my wife is very sorry we didn't utilize it more - a killer Salad Bar, along with many unique lunch choices. Had several Room Service breakfasts, and some excellent Spinach/Artichoke dip from RS also. Note to Readers: this review is kind of rambling all over the place - you might want to fasten your seat belt. While I"m thinking about it, I wanted to mention some items I brought: duct tape, bungee cords, super glue. I actually used them all. The bungees and duct tape held my Yankee flag on the balcony. The super glue was used by a fellow M&M'er who broke her glasses and used the glue for a temporary fix. Oh: clothespins too. Handy on the balcony and in the shower (the showers have a little clothesline for hanging wet suits, etc.). RIDDLE #2: Why did my cruise remind me of a book I was reading, THE TRAGIC HISTORY OF THE SEA? Because it was a tragedy that the cruise only lasted nine days! We never did more than a 7 day before. I was wondering if 9 days was overkill. NOPE! I'm still trying to figure out where the time went - it was over way too quick. Entertainment: Best Variety of any cruise I've been on. CD Keith Williams was excellent and very personable; I admire a CD who acknowledges me and remembers meeting me days earlier. Assistant Irky: all I can say is "Heh, Heh, Heh!". (You'll understand if you meet him). The opening show had a comedian (haven't totally unpacked and can't find Day 1 to remember his name - Barnhart maybe?). Other nights had Comic Pianist Glenn Smith (great show), Comic Juggler Charlie Peachock (my favorite show of the cruise), Comedy/Magician Farrel Dillon, Horizon (Motown singing trio with an excellent performance), Vocalist Dolores Park, Comedian Chas Elstner. Lots of activities onboard (trivia, Nintendo Wii tournaments, live music, dance lessons). Don't miss The Quest (unless you're a 17th century Puritan). RIDDLE #3: What was the most popular animal at The Quest? A Zee-Bra (joke stolen from Sub or Yoga - can't remember who told it first, but thanks). Excursions: Our three younger ones (22, 21, 19) did the Segway Tour in San Juan. They all enjoyed it and my son insists he's buying one when he gets home. In St Thomas we did the Champagne Catamaran. Good snorkeling, great beach, great Rum Punch (it must have had tranquilizers in it because I got back to the ship and slept for 14 straight hours!). Several of our M&M'ers did the Turtle Cove snorkeling, and if you're into snorkeling that was probably a better choice, but overall I thoroughly enjoyed our excursion. In Samana many of us booked directly through Tours with Terry (easily found on CC threads). That was an advantage of reading the M&M thread for our cruise - all 35 or so people on the two excursions were M&M'ers! We had about 17 horseback riders, others did the ATVs through Terry, and myself, wife and daughter were taken to a beach with our granddaughter where everyone met up after their rides. We had our own private Caribbean beach for two hours before everyone got there - it felt like being a millionaire - no one else around, lying in the sand with no one in sight, being able to scratch my arse without worrying who's watching (Oops! TMI!). At Labadee we did a snorkel excursion, and the snorkeling was the best I've seen in four Caribbean cruises. More Rum Punch, but this was a shorter ride so I handled this one better. A note on Samana and Labadee: these are very, very poor areas. Several of our M&M'ers brought clothing and school supplies to give to locals. If you have room in your suitcases, please consider doing the same - they can really use it. You can very easily find someone who will take the items and give them to someone in need. Cruising With An Infant: I asked a lot of questions on CruiseCritc about cruising with infants, and many posters said we were crazy for trying it. WRONG! Our granddaughter had a great time (she's 13 months). She's a smart little cookie who looked forward to her fruit bowl and bread at dinner each night (not to mention great kid's dinners and trying everything we had), and she learned what elevators do. Some spare time was spent following her into an open elevator, following her off as she explored a new deck, following her back on when they opened again.... We brought our own Pack'N'Play for her to sleep in (we drove, making that easier), but RCCL does provide them. She slept all night every night, and enjoyed seeing the ocean and beaches for the first time in her young life. No regrets at all about bringing her. What helped was having five adults (grandparents, parents, aunt), who could take turns, sometimes missing an excursion or show to stay with her (a very small price to pay for the great memories we now have). Meet & Mingle: If your cruise is seven days or longer, DO sign up and attend the M&M. We had 107 sign up for ours, probably 60 to 70 present. RCCL gives out several prizes and our group also brought our own prizes (little samples of our hometown areas - marinades, mustards, trinkets, shirts). We had so many items brought that every family present won at least one thing; we had to re-draw for the last several items because everyone had already won something, so we started again. We were quite well represented throughout the cruise (10 of 12 Belly Flop contestants, members on the 2nd & 3rd place Quest teams, a majority of the Sexy Leggers) - yeah, we had a fun group. Corresponding with each other beforehand added to the pleasure of getting to know each other, and feeling like a family before we even met. I shall keep my Pink Mohawk wig as a fond memory of my M&M friends. RIDDLE #4: What does my title mean,"Cruising With 107 Kids Plus an Infant"? This was a very "young-at-heart" group (I'm 56 but haven't grown up yet). I swear this cruise was almost like a Fountain of Youth! Our age range was from a 1 yr old to numerous teens to late-late-late 50's. And all 107 kids played together very nicely. Debarkation: As Platinum members we had a private lounge to wait in. Only problem was the lounge couldn't hold half the people who qualified for it. Finding luggage was easy unless you were like one poor person whose tag fell off their bag, thereby meaning their bag could be anywhere in the terminal. Tip: if you have extra luggage tags put more than one on each bag - that way, in case one accidentally gets ripped off, your luggage can still find its way to the right location. RIDDLE #5: Why am I sitting at my desk typing this instead of sailing someplace on a relaxing, enjoyable cruise ship? Sorry, I don't have an answer for that one myself!!! Thank you, RCCL. Thank you, my many M&M friends - we really do miss you all (and for you many Southerners: we really do miss y'all). Read Less
Sail Date June 2010
DH and I wanted to do something special for our 5th anniversary. We'd honeymooned on the QMII but wanted to try a different line this time around. Frankly, our immediate criteria was finding an embarkation port that was within a ... Read More
DH and I wanted to do something special for our 5th anniversary. We'd honeymooned on the QMII but wanted to try a different line this time around. Frankly, our immediate criteria was finding an embarkation port that was within a drivable distance from our home in Durham, NC. This led us to the port of Norfolk, VA, which in turn led us to considering Royal Caribbean's Enchantment of the Seas. After poking around a bit on Royal Caribbean's site, Cruise Critic, and on-line cruise booking sites, we settled on booking EOS for a 9 night Eastern Caribbean cruise departing May 20th 2010. As it turned out, I also contacted RCI a few times as we neared our sail date with a few specific questions regarding what we could or could not pack; plus, I utilized their web site to check in, print out Set Sail Passes, purchase a wine package, make an RSVP for the specialty restaurant (Chops Grille) and order a bottle of Champagne to be delivered to our stateroom on sail day. Everything turned out as expected. Knowing this, I'll not be quite so anal the next time we cruise ("quite"!) We stayed in Norfolk the night before we sailed at a B&B called The Freemason Inn (review on Trip Advisor). In short, I would not recommend this B&B but it was close to the pier so that was good. We arrived at the pier way too early; it was a bit chaotic with passengers getting off Enchantment, cars everywhere, porters going to and fro, and other people (like us) arriving, eager to get on board! DH parked the gar in one of Norfolk's public parking garages. This one was directly across the street from the pier (Plume Street). Word to the wise; all of the public garages switch to the same daily rate on sail day. We ended up paying $15 per day and had to pre-pay it (the day before, the rates were $12!) The boarding process was a breeze. Everyone was extremely helpful and the process moved along quickly. After going through check-in, we were ushered to a roped off waiting area. Coffee, tea and cookies were provided. We didn't have to wait long; they started boarding us around 11:00. DH and I were #3 and #4 on board (after taking the obligatory Welcome Aboard picture). Since we were #3 and #4 on board, it was obviously quite empty when we stepped aboard Enchantment; thus, we had an unique opportunity to look around and really see what she looked like. Although Enchantment is on the smaller side (although larger than she was after being "stretched" in 2005), we were impressed; she is a truly beautiful ship. We liked the open atrium area, the glass elevators, all of the sparkling polished chrome; it made an excellent first impression! Plus, everything was so clean and fresh (she'd just come out of dry dock in early May). We spent that first afternoon in the Windjammer area near the pool bar waiting to get into our stateroom. We were in by 1:00 pm; very reasonable. When we first arrived, our luggage was not all there but it showed up within a few minutes. Our bottle of Champagne was there on ice waiting for us and we eagerly explored the suite and unpacked. My Fair Lady Dining Room and Food in General We had the 2nd seating in the My Fair Lady dining room. We were originally assigned to a table for 12 in the middle of the bottom level. DH is a bit hard of hearing so he went to the Maitre'd and requested we be re-assigned to a smaller table in a quieter section of the room. They re-assigned us to a perfectly delightful table for two (by a window, no less) towards the rear of the dining room. We had no problem being in the back; in fact, we preferred it. We had excellent service by our waiter, Edmond and our assistance waiter, Clayton (not to mention Placid, who brought us our evening cocktail every night!) We ate in MFL all but one evening. In general, we found the food more than acceptable. There was always a decent selection of food; including options for low fat, low calories, low sugar, low sodium, etc. Each evening we had an appetizer, entrEe and dessert. Only once did I find something not to my liking. Many times, Edmond offered to bring us more than one of whatever we'd ordered and once he brought me two desserts because I couldn't make up my mind between them. We'd arranged to have one of the wine packages (in essence prepaid for 7 bottles of wine which turned out to be a better deal than buying a bottle each night in the dining room). Each evening, we were presented with the list of bottles to chose from (we'd opted for the middle of the road selections) and only one night was what we wanted out of stock and we had to request something else. My only issue with the dining room was that the dress code was not enforced. Many times, we saw people in the dining room wearing shorts, jeans, tank tops, etc., even on formal night. We're not snobs, but, we thought more attention should have been paid to this as it sort of took away from the elegance of the evening. There is always the Windjammer for those who don't want to dress for dinner. And speaking of the Windjammer, they actually enforced the dress code better than the main dining room! I wandered in there one afternoon looking for a snack and was told I had to go "cover up" (I had come in from the pool area and did not have a tee shirt on over my bathing suit). We ate in the Windjammer a few times for breakfast and lunch/afternoon snacks. The food was really good; fresh with a lot of options but, my, the crowds; people seemed to check their brains at the door, too). Also, I found it a bit off-putting when they'd shut down one side of the buffet an hour before it closed (getting ready for the next meal, I guess). It was amusing how quickly the bus boys snatched up any unused utensil, cup, plate, etc., off the tables! Better hold on to your self or they may snatch you up, too! Many afternoons we partook of the snacks over in the Solarium; pizza, hamburgers, hot dogs, French fries, fresh fruit, cookies, etc.) We don't typically eat a lot of "junk" food but, man, were those French fries good! So good, in fact, that people started picking up the bin of them and dumping the entire contents on their plates. After that, the staff moved the French fries behind the pizza counter to be meted out a bit more equally! We also ordered room service several mornings. We delighted in this, too; since it was included in the rate and normally this is a luxury we don't indulge in. However, we did have a challenge trying to get the room service staff to understand we wanted TWO pots of coffee, even though ONE pot was supposed to serve two people (it didn't, unless you only require a cup and a half of coffee in the morning!) We paid the extra $25 per person to eat at Chops Grille one evening. This was DEFINITELY worth it; a step up in both food and service (and since the food and service in MFL was just fine; you can imagine how wonderful Chops Grille was!) Just imagine a typical, traditional Chop House in, say, Chicago or another big mid-western city, and, you'll have an idea of the food available in Chops Grille. Also, a fantastic wine list. Wrapping up food; we did not make it to the (one) midnight buffet they had. We typically did not finish up with our dinner until 10:30 or so. We just couldn't stuff any more food done that night! We only ate breakfast in MFL the morning we got off the ship. This was fine; nicer than the Windjammer in that is was a lot more civilized but breakfast was only served in there from 7-9 (or something like that) which was just too early for us throughout the cruise itself. Drinks A lot of people were griping beforehand that drinks on cruises are too expensive, especially the drink of the day; not to mention watered down. We didn't find them that expensive and the drink of the day (typically something with rum) was $5. Additionally, if you had a good poolside server (like we did with Placid), they were more than generous with the alcohol. We got a kick out of Dr. Yummy wandering around with a tray of cocktails announcing it was "Yummy yummy time" or, "Here is the medication for your vacation". Yeah, those were a bit steep; $7 or $8 BUT he'd gladly add a few extra shots of rum and you got to keep the "glass". In general, we stuck to beer, diet Coke and rum but we did imbibe in some of those frozen drinks on especially hot days. I fell in love with the frozen Mojitos. As previously mentioned, the wine list/packages were acceptable. The only "ouch" came in the form of spending almost $40 for two glasses of Champagne in the Champagne Bar one night. We did find it a bit odd that we were not able to take our half-consumed bottle of wine (from dinner) with us back to our room and yet it was perfectly fine for us to fill up our wine glasses to the brim and leave the dining room with them. Also, we were not able to order a bottle of Scotch or Cognac to have in our room for a night cap. That would have been nice, but, I suppose the idea is for you to be out in one of the lounges (we loved the Viking Crown Lounge and the Schooner Bar) or in the casino or at a show having drinks THERE. As far as non-alcoholic drinks, there was complimentary coffee, iced tea and lemonade pretty much every day, somewhere. There were both packages for all you can drink soda, too; plus, bottled water packages (we did end up paying $32 for eight large bottles of Evian, which were delivered to our stateroom). We ordered sodas a few times; about 1/2 the cost of a beer for a can of soda. Additionally, there was a Seattle's Best on board where we could have purchased lattes and the like; plus, a Ben and Jerry's (although with all that free dessert (including soft serve ice cream, why pa extra for that?) Service EVERYONE was wonderful. All of the staff always had smiles on their faces and were extremely helpful and pleasant. Our stateroom attendant, Esther, was excellent. We sure enjoyed seeing what towel creature we'd find in our stateroom each evening! Seriously, considering these folks sign on for 7 1/2 months and work 7 days a week, RCI must definitely be doing something right with regards to their employees. Next time I'm on board a RCI ship, I'd love to chat with their HR person! The only issue we had was when one of the waiters in the Spot Light Lounge one night got my Sea Pass card mixed up with someone else's. I didn't notice it until the next morning and went to Guest Relations to get it taken care of; no problem. Fellow Passengers Around the time we booked the cruise, I signed up for Cruise Critic and met several of our future fellow passengers via this forum. What a great experience; not only did I get several questions answered by these veteran cruisers, but, we organized an excursion together in Samana. Needless to say, all of these folks were wonderful. Ages ranged from late 20s (I'd say) to 70 or older. Initially, we thought the average age of fellow passengers was going to be 60 or more but it turned out this might have been because more senior folks were on board first (again, we were #3 and #4 on board). As the days went on, we adjusted the average age to be in the mid 30s to mid 40s. We didn't experience any issues with our fellow passengers save the minor irritations that arise from simply having so many people in one confined space at once. Yes, there were a few rude, pushy, loud, annoying or obtuse folks on board, but, definitely the exception, NOT the norm. All in all we loved Enchantment of the Seas. We're sorry that she is no longer sailing out of Norfolk but hope one day we'll catch her again. The RCI experience was fantastic; truly, it rivaled the QMII at about 1/2 the price. Who needs those white gloves, anyway? We were so "Enchanted" with RCI that we've already booked our next cruise with them on Radiance of the Seas next January. Read Less
Sail Date May 2010
We sailed on the Grandeur of the Seas on May 21 out of Norfolk, Va on a 9 day Eastern Caribbean trip with stops in St. Juan, St. Thomas, Samana (Dominican Republic) and Labadee, Haiti, returning on May 30th to Norfolk. It was a ... Read More
We sailed on the Grandeur of the Seas on May 21 out of Norfolk, Va on a 9 day Eastern Caribbean trip with stops in St. Juan, St. Thomas, Samana (Dominican Republic) and Labadee, Haiti, returning on May 30th to Norfolk. It was a wonderful cruise. We had a junior suite on the starboard aft side that was quite roomy and spacious for both of us, even though I missed the walk-in closet I had on the Explorer of The Seas. I thought the Gradeur was a lovely ship, just the right size, and felt more "ship-like" and less "floating hotel-ish" than the Explorer. Our stateroom attendent, Anthony, was a joy I wish I could take HIM home with me! He kept our room spotless and brought us anything we needed or wanted. Every evening he delighted us with a hilarious new towel creation and insisted it was the work of "The Magic Man".We had the breakfast buffet every morning in the Windjammer Cafe, and were pleased with the selections everything was hot, fresh and tasty. The fresh fruit, yogurt, eggs, and bacon were always my choices. Luch was always from the Windjamer as well, and although I usually didn't eat much, I tried to taste a tiny bit of the interesting dishes. The curries were always good. The soups were great! The desserts could be hit or miss, except for anything mousse-like those were excellent! Mango mousse was sooooo good. I usually had a very light afternoon snack at the Windjammer as well, and they always had hamburgers, hot dogs, good french fries if they were fresh and hot (they do a good job of keeping them hot and replenishing them), and taco fixings, plus deli meats and cheeses, salads, soups, desserts, and something different every day, such as wings, fried fish fingers, assorted hot meals, etc. I was very impressed.We had dinner every evening in the dining room and the first night, we were seated at an assigned table with a waiter who was a complete jerk. We complained to our headwaiter, Kirk, who was fantastic, and signed up for My Time Dining instead. After that we had the most wonderful waiter, Romar, and assistant waiter, Christopher. They truly went out of their way to turn around what could have been a horrible 9 day dining experience. Absolutely totally without complaint, except for the first night (plus that first night, my pork medallions were inedible). In San Juan, we actually arrived early, around 9:00 a.m. instead of 2:00 p.m., as there was a medical emergency on board and we had to get to San Juan as fast as possible.  We enjoyed walking around San Juan, and we were able to attend Sunday Mass at the Cathedral. We also walked through El Morro, which was fine, but I most enjoyed exploring the streets of Old San Juan and eating lunch in a little hole in the wall restaurant with wonderful food and sangria. In St. Thomas, we took the Ocean Racing excusion with On Deck and really enjoyed crewing and racing on the 40 foot Farr racing yacht. Afterwards, we walked into the downtown section to the shops and I was disappointed with how ticky-tacky St. Thomas was.In Samana, we went on the San Limon Horseback Ride and Hike to the waterfall, which was a tremendous experience, but it is EXTREMELY STRENUOUS and is not a sedate little ride on a horse on a level dirt path although you have a guide, the "path" is barely there; it is strewn with numerous, big, muddy and slippery rocks and mud holes; it is steeply pitched up and down; and you ford a river at least three or four times on horseback. Once you get near the waterfall, you go by foot down a slippery, muddy, rocky path to a stream that you wade through to finally reach the waterfall which is gorgeous and cooling. After resting, you have to do it all again in reverse. I LOVED this excursion (well, I didn't like the tender ride and the bus ride) and I highly recommend it IF you are ready for it: wear long pants to protect your legs from the saddle; wear cotton socks (for under the rubber boots they recommnd you wear and they supply, which are like Totes rubber boots very thin); bring an extra pair or two of cotton socks to change into AFTER you are through wading the stream on foot and fording the river on horseback so you have something dry to wear; bring a small backpack with a towel to dry your feet, your spare socks, a change of clothes if you want a dry set after you swim or after you finish the excursion, and a bottle of water; bring some cash as you might want to buy chocolate, your photo on the CD-DVD, and to tip your guide and you really SHOULD tip the guide. They work so hard but aren't supposed to ask for any money. I gave mine $20, as he not only helped me with my horse (although he also gave me more freedom once he knew I was comfortable with her), he walked/ran every step of the way with me over that horrendous terrain, wearing tattered, flimsy Totes rubber boots, and held my hand and guided me as I made my way slowly down the hill to the stream and waterfall and back again.Another highlight of the Grandeur is Captain Rob he has the BEST personality. His afternoon announcement were so humorous, and his "Nautical Notes" presentation on the last day of the cruise was very informative and worthwhile. He took the time to talk to anyone who had questions afterward and also posed for photos. Just a super guy.The entertainment (live shows) on board were okay, except for Al Katz, the comedian who was REALLY funny. As for the live music and music for dancing, we loved Johnny and Take Four his voice was amazing, and we loved dancing to his band. I climbed the rock wall, took Tai Chi, had a piano lesson, and my companion did the Sudoku Challange (and came in second). We took a dancing lesson as a brush up; the couple who taught the classes was very good. The library is beautiful, although there isn't a great assortment of books. We found a few (but we brought a lot of our own). The shops onboard were okay; I didn't see anything I really had to have. If the prices had been lower, I might have considered a few things. I thought the Activities Director was annoying, and the Cruise Director seemed nice, but wasn't that funny. (They are married to each other.) I'm sure they are very nice people, but she came across as just too fake. They did a good job of providing information for disembarking via the stateroom television channel, however.We didn't participate in the Belly Flop Contest, or the Mr. Sexy Legs contest, or the Love and Marriage Game show, or BINGO, or The Quest. There were two late night (midnight) buffets that we passed on as well. We didn't go to the Casino because it was horribly smoky.  They did have two smoke-free nights.  I would have like to have gone to the Viking Crown Lounge for late night dancing and entertainment, but it was so full of smoke I couldn't breathe.We would DEFINITELY sail on the Grandeur again. I hope she has some different cruises out of Baltimore, although we'd consider taking this trip again after taking a cruise to the Southern and Western Caribbean. Read Less
Sail Date May 2009
This will be fun to write and I hope enjoyable to read. I will be totally honest and opinionated so bear with me.  This being my 4th cruise and my fiancees first it was fun to see things through his eyes too!  We had an absolute blast. ... Read More
This will be fun to write and I hope enjoyable to read. I will be totally honest and opinionated so bear with me.  This being my 4th cruise and my fiancees first it was fun to see things through his eyes too!  We had an absolute blast. And we did it OUR WAY ! Embarkation and debarkation were speedy, smooth and hardly any waiting, course we got onboard at 12:30.  I heard the lines were longer about 1:30.  Every staff member from the pool servers to the cabin stewards to the greeters at registration to the porters, were there to serve you in any way they could, and always with a smile!The cabin was the smallest I have ever had, our luggage didnt fit under the very comfortable bed, altho we had huge luggage which did fit in the closet.  Storage space was adequate. More storage behind the mirrors too, look for it!  Glad we brought a nite lite as the inside staterooms are pitch black at night.  Our steward, Wilbert and Ms. Lovelace were fabulous and kept the room spotless and the linens well stocked.  Do bring your own shampoo and conditioner as they have a combination dispenser in the shower that didnt do a thing for my long hair.  Do bring a power strip if you have things to charge. The shower is super tiny but the water pressure and temp were perfect as was the air conditioning.  The TV is very small but does come out and swivel to the bed for viewing.  Cute towel animals greet u each nite! Just precious, but no chocolate.  Towards the end of the cruise we noticed a sewage smell in the hall as well as in the cabin, many others commented on it too.The Windjammer is the best designed buffet I have ever seen, traffic moved quickly and smoothly with plenty to choose from.  Nothing real spectacular, but it was good and the seating and view is terrific no matter where you sit.  Wait staff cant do enough for you and keep it spotless in there!The Great Gatsby Dining Room was probably beautiful, I wouldnt know, somehow we got seated at a table for 8, which i had requested in January when i booked the cruise, altho we were up against a beautiful round window and enjoyed the view and the 6  very entertaining table mates, I would have preferred to sit in the big dining room with the rest of the travelers, as it was we missed the waiters singing and their parade of nations. We were at table 2, there were 24 people in the little room which did have a private entrance off the ship hallway, so that allowed us NOT to wait in line at the early seating.  My fiancee was thrilled to be in this private room and said it was much quieter and cozier than the big dining room.  Our waiter and asst. were wonderful, treated us like royalty and memorized our beverages and knew our likes and dislikes.  The food was food, nothing spectacular, we tried many new things, enjoyed them, but we have had better.  The steaks always seemed to be tough, as mentioned by everyone at the table. Entertainment staff was excellent, their ideas, games and poolside antics were fun to watch and/or participate in.  Don't miss THE QUEST ! OR THE MARRIAGE SHOW & THE BATTLE OF THE SEXES ALL IN THE SOUTH PACIFIC LOUNGE.Enjoyed the two comedians and the final show, but didnt get to watch the ship performers as we were busy in the casino. My fiancee hit the $1000 diamond progressive jackpot on the first formal nite at the penny machines.  He was a happy clam for the rest of the cruise and didnt give it back !  Being smokers we were not considered outcasts, we could smoke on open decks on the starboard side as well as in the casino.  There were many many smokers on board.First Formal Night, we had pictures taken that turned out wonderful. If you buy 4 8x10's you get the 5th one free and they put it in a big leather frame/book with a picture of the ship.  Very classy, yet expensive, but I was worth it, after all I never looked so good in all my finery!  I will always treasure those pictures, just a fabulous rememberance!  I didnt see any formal pictures being taken on the 2nd formal night.  Altho they do have a photographer taking casual fun shots on a white background or a beach background, i saw numerous people taking advantage of that fun idea, its right near the portrait store.  We tried to attend the captains champagne social but the room was filled, so we grabbed a glass and moved on to the schooner bar and listened to the piano man.Not real impressed with the shops, altho the liquor prices and marlboro prices were very reasonable.  "Inch of Gold" looks pretty but it does "turn" as I had purchased it 2 years ago on another cruise. At noon everyday, the captain gives a quick brief over the load speaker, it would get real quiet no matter where you were as all ears were tuned to his very dry humor and comical reports.  DO LOOK FORWARD TO THIS, HE'S TERRIFIC! San Juan was pleasant, the weather couldn't have been better, we docked at 2pm, were off the boat by 3pm and walked around Old San Juan,  this is my second trip and my fiancee was not impressed.  The stores closed at 5pm and it was Mother's Day, so many were closed anyway.  TIP: When you get off the boat there will be many drivers offering you a 2 hr tour of old and new San Juan, for $10 @,  definitely take it.  Its an air conditioned ride that you will really enjoy and learn a lot.  I had taken the tour a couple years ago, fiancEe was more interested in getting back on the ship, he had more fun there! Oh, well! St. Thomas, (my 2nd visit) of course is a beautiful island, but having never ventured to the beaches I still enjoyed myself at the shops along the pier and the covered flea market in town.  The tiny jewelry stores and shabby streets didn't do a thing for me.  Some friends went up to the top of the mountain and said it was a real treat to see the bird show and the view. Samana, Dominican Republic is an absolute disgrace, Royal Caribbean should be ashamed to even take their guests to this shabby port! It was horrendous, filthy, vendors practically begging  you and tour directors almost demanding you get in their vehicles even tho the only words they used were: waterfall, beach ride & $10 dollars. Most just kept showing you pictures of beaches or waterfalls and opening the door to their van.  NOT ON YOUR LIFE AM I GETTING IN THERE WITH YOU.  I did see some fellow travelers in a small rickshaw-type vehicle being dragged by a motorbike.  I don't think there are any traffic laws and the chaos was scary to watch. We walked the short waters edge to the many vendors under tents, once that was completed we were back on board within the hour.  Many of us felt very uncomfortable here. Don't miss the REMAX Realty office with laundry hanging all over the building, it will be on your right side as you walk towards the vendors. Larabee, our last port is a private island owned by the cruiseline. LOAD UP ON THE SUNSCREEN!  A two story boat came from the island to pick us up, it ran very frequently.  This is an absolutely stunning sight, very tropical, loads of  lounge chairs, which you do not have to pay to have them moved to a certain spot.  Hammocks hanging everywhere for your  absolute relaxation.  We did the $89, Zip line ride, which was absolutely fabulous, something I will never forget ! 500 ft. above the trees/ water and half a mile ride at about 45 miles per hour!  After an enjoyable lunch we walked over to the Artisian Market and outside vendors.  Wait a cool sight!  No one announced that we should have taken some money with us as the vendors do not accept your sea pass card.  That information would have been helpful.  I did have a $20 bill with me so we walked thru, what a mistake !  Each of the 50 or more vendors had exactly the same thing and were in your face and not accepting " No" for an answer, it got to be frightening and there was nothing there that I needed.  Typical island treats.  I tried once more to go in and browse but the vendors were so overpowering I had to leave.  There are many water sports on this island and just a beautiful scenery to enjoy.  BEWARE: when we came thru customs in Norfolk, every  single person who had purchased a wooden spear, mask, fan, statue, doll or anything made of wood from this island, was escorted by security into a private room.  There were about 50 people just sitting in this room when we went thru about 915 am.  Guess they were looking for drugs or bugs or something.  But the "held" vacationer didn't look too happy. Our time aboard the ship was absolutely the grandest and we are looking forward to our next trip on the Water.  My fiancEe has agreed cruising is the way to vacation: everything at your fingertips!  food, entertainment, no arranging transportation and being treated like Royalty. Read Less
Sail Date May 2009
Some cruising history:  HAL 11 cruises, RCCL 5 cruises - 4 on the Grandeur of the Seas.  This was my first solo.  I booked this cruise in March 2009 mostly due to the convience of the departure port of Norfok.  It's only 3 hours ... Read More
Some cruising history:  HAL 11 cruises, RCCL 5 cruises - 4 on the Grandeur of the Seas.  This was my first solo.  I booked this cruise in March 2009 mostly due to the convience of the departure port of Norfok.  It's only 3 hours from my home and no air travel involved.  DH could not make this trip due to work, so I decided to go solo.  This was my third time on this ship with the same itinerary.I arrived a bit early in Norfolk, about 10:30 am and proceeded to the Cedar Grove parking lot.  To my delight they were letting some early birds in for parking and by 11:00 am I was at the terminal checking in.  The terminal check in process was painless.  The agent's and rep's were all very nice.  Was only in holding mode for about 10 minutes.  That was great!By 11:15 am I had a bloody mary in hand and as I looked around the ship I knew that something was very different from my last trip on GOS in August 2008.  The ship was gleaming and the crew was all so happy!  Last August that was not the case.  Off to the Windjammer for lunch and at exactly 1:00 pm the stateroom's were ready.  I hurried to see my balcony stateroom and I was delighted, to say the least.  I was on deck 7, my stateroom was about the fourth from the front of the ship.  I must tell you that this location had me a bit worried, but the sea days were fine.  No major "rocking".  We did have calm seas throughout the ship.  I went to the champagne bar and ordered a bottle of wine and took it back to the stateroom and enjoyed sail away sipping on it.  I must also mention that I met another solo traveler, Kate, and we did have the first lunch together and it was wonderful conversation.  My stateroom attendent, Angela was great!  She had an assistant named Margaret that was great also.  This was Margaret's last run before returning home to Costa Rica and her son.  She was very excited to get back to her native country and family.  I hope that she made it home safely.The first evening I put out the order form for coffee at 5:30 am (I'm an early riser!) and it was there on time with a quick call to the stateroom before delivery every morning.  The room service attendent was Claudia and after the first morning I never had to place the order form on the door again.  She was there every morning with my order and a very happy morning greeting.  She would bring little extra's like juice and pastries also.  She was a delight!  Her home is in Brazil.The first 2 days were sea days.  I attended the Meet & Mingle and met a few of the online poster's.  Natalie from RCCL hosted the get together.  Was a nice layout of cheese's, fruit and coffee and other light beverage's.  Was nice to put some of the face's with the name's.  I only wish that we had a stand up and introduce yourself type of thing.  The lazy, sun filled day's were great!  No schedule - just vegged out!  The solorium was really nice,  Spent time there in the hot tubs and reading.  I must note here that I did not go to the diningroom on this trip.  I went to the Windjammer for all meals or had room service.  Both were great.Ran into Captain Rob many times.  He is a very visable Captain and I find him to be a true delight.  The last sea day he held an informative gathering in the theater.  A must for all to attend!The production show's were okay.  Just okay,IMHO.  I truly enjoyed the comedy show's.  Chas Elstner is so funny!  Antonio Salci was wonderful.  A great sing along show.  Horizon, Motown and More was delightful!  Do not miss this!  Earl was a hoot with water!  Thanks to Smoke and Earl for the dance's!  Watch where you sit when these guy's are doing their show because for some reason I got zero'd in on twice with them.  I wish that I purchased their CD's.The port's were:San Juan - same as same.  We docked in there at about 2:30 pm on Sunday.  I walked and walked.  Went to the Coach and Dooney & Bourke stores, to find them closed.  It was Mother's Day and a Sunday, so perhaps that was why they were not open.  Still the walking around Old San Juan was nice.  The evening brought a lot of congestion on the streets.  Carnival Victory was also in port beside of us, apparently loading passenger's, and now I understand why they call Carnival the fun ship's!  She was quite a sight to see!St. Thomas - my favorite!  Went to the downtown shopping area and made a few deposit's at my favorite store's.  It was slow downtown.  The economy has been hit hard there as with other area's.  The Coach store is now located at Yacht Haven and by the time I got back to there, well, I was spent out!Samana, DR - been there, done that.  Not one of my favorite places, so I stayed on board and enjoyed the hot tub and a spa treatment.  Oh, so nice!Labadee - BEAUTIFUL!  They are proceeding with the new pier and it looks good.  A relaxing day at the beach!The last 2 day's were again sea day's and I made sure that I spent my OBC.  That was not hard to do!All in all, the trip was great!  I enjoyed running into a few of the ladies from M&M and meeting new people.  Would you believe that I actually ran into a couple that I had met my August 2008 trip?  I was shocked!  They too, love to cruise and said that they are doing a lot of it these days.  The food, the drink's and the crew were all wonderful on this sailing!  I highly recommend it!  Read Less
Sail Date May 2009
About Us- We have been on 10 cruises with Carnival and this was our very first cruise with Royal Caribbean. There were 12 people in our group, which included 8 adults ranging from 40-72 and 4 kids ranging from 9-17. There was an older ... Read More
About Us- We have been on 10 cruises with Carnival and this was our very first cruise with Royal Caribbean. There were 12 people in our group, which included 8 adults ranging from 40-72 and 4 kids ranging from 9-17. There was an older crowd on this ship than we are used to seeing which didn't affect our cruise at all. Embarkation- We live on 30 minutes from the Port of Norfolk so we had my brother drive us over. We arrived at 10AM and he was able to drop us off right in front of Half Moone Cruise Center. The porters were right there to take our luggage right from our van. Said goodbye to my brother and we walked right inside the terminal. By 10:45 they began processing and by 11AM we were walking on the ship. Easiest and best embarkation ever! Cabin- Most of us had a D1 balcony cabin on deck 7 except for one family that had a JS on deck 8. Our cabin was 7574, which was 4 doors down from the Centrum. Noise was never an issue and it was a perfect location. There was more than enough storage and the balcony was perfect for the two of us with two chairs and small table. The a/c worked great as we love having our cabin on the chilly side. Beds were a little firmer than we are used to but didn't keep us from a good night's sleep. The bathroom was adequate but what is up with the shower? Could it have been any smaller? It really was the smallest we have ever experienced at sea but we still managed. The cabin itself was a decent size and provided more than enough room for us. Service- Our cabin steward Kenny and dining team of Mehmet and Oswald were all outstanding. I couldn't find a complaint even if I tried. Thanks guys! Woman down at the Solarium Cafe was downright rude and nasty. The rest of the crew was simply the best! They had hand sanitizer stations spread throughout the public areas of the ship. Entertainment- John Blair is the cruise director on this ship and he was as good if not better than any we have sailed with. Always out and about and would always speak to us if we saw him on the ship. We went to all the shows each night and everyone seemed to enjoy each one. Of the Broadway style shows we thought Rhythm & Rhyme was the best. If you have comedian Gary Muledeer on your ship you have to go see him. He was absolutely hilarious! We also loved Los Pampas Gauchos during the farewell show. We are pool deck kind of people so we spent a lot of time soaking up the rays. Kool Vibes was the band up there and they were excellent. Couldn't help but get into the groove when they were playing. Also check out Take 4 if you sail this ship. Their lead singer Johnny is really good and has some dance moves to go with his voice. Late night comedian Al Romas was also hilarious at both of his shows. We also attended our very first Quest. It is not to be missed. What a riot. Food- We ate all breakfasts and lunches in the Windjammer. We ate dinner each night in the Great Gatsby except for the days we were in San Juan and St Thomas. Everything we had was either good to very good. We like Carnival's menu a little better but the food really was good. Didn't order room service at all so I can't comment on that. Ports- San Juan: Been there enough and could take it or leave it. We just walked around and headed over to San Cristobal. Then did a little shopping and was back on the ship by 6PM. St Thomas: It was raining when we arrived so we shopped for a few hours at Havensight. The sun finally came out at about 11 so we grabbed a taxi over to Megans Bay. After 4 trips to St Thomas this was our first trip to Megans. We usually go to either Trunk Bay or Sapphire. Really enjoyed Megans and would go there again. Samana: I think this was our favorite port on this trip. We booked the Cayo Levantado Beach Break through the ship and loved it! What a beautiful beach. It's on a little island not far from where the ship anchors. Highly recommend this excursion. Last stop was Labadee. I know it is a favorite on this board but I could take it or leave it. Maybe after the pier is finished and the water clears back up it would be better. It wasn't really my idea of a tropical beach. We did have some that did the zip line, my daughter included, and they really loved that! Debarkation- We did the express debarkation and carried off our own luggage. We were off the ship by 7:30 but got held up at Customs due to a rose that my daughter had bought her mom for Mother's Day on Sunday. They sent us over to a special room and searched our luggage for other "contraband". We weren't the only ones over there and after 20 minutes we were on our way out of the terminal. Waited a few minutes outside for my brother to show up and we were back home before 9AM. Aside from the Customs hassle it was the easiest debarkation ever. Bottom Line- Overall, I would rate this cruise as an "A". It was right up there with one of our best ever. Very relaxing and fun filled from start to finish. We will definitely be sailing with Royal Caribbean again in the very near future. Read Less
Sail Date May 2009
We sailed from Norfolk, VA (easy as we live nearby in VA Beach, VA). New embarking center a breeze to board the ship. We parked in the parking area at Cedar Grove for $10.00 a day; I guess a bargain compared to other cities?Room ... Read More
We sailed from Norfolk, VA (easy as we live nearby in VA Beach, VA). New embarking center a breeze to board the ship. We parked in the parking area at Cedar Grove for $10.00 a day; I guess a bargain compared to other cities?Room wasn't ready when we boarded at around 11 AM, however, was ready around 1 PM, gave us time to go to the Windjammer for lunch. Grandeur is showing her age but in a beautiful way, she is still grand though, and small enough to enjoy. We opt for the early diner at 6 PM (we don't like to eat late). Very good food, well served and our waiter, from India "D" and our ass't waiter from Jamaica "Terry" were superb.Windjammer was good, seems like the same menu most the time, but enjoyable. Not a crowded area that I have noticed on other ships, especially Princess (in November, 2008 we were on a 2 week Hawaiian cruise and the flow traffic in their "windjammer" was horrible, believe me). The waiters were exceedingly attentive, they would go out of their way to please you. My wife likes tomato juice, and it wasn't available in the windjammer, but lo and behold just ask for it and it appeared.All in all an excellent cruise, excellent entertainment and the cruise director and his wife (Mr. & Mrs. Blair) were just great people. Read Less
Sail Date May 2009
Our 9 day Caribbean cruise on the Grandeur was overall positively wonderful. My boyfriend and I drove from Richmond, Va to Norfolk. Easy. We found the port without a problem, parking was easy. We arrived around noon and next time I would ... Read More
Our 9 day Caribbean cruise on the Grandeur was overall positively wonderful. My boyfriend and I drove from Richmond, Va to Norfolk. Easy. We found the port without a problem, parking was easy. We arrived around noon and next time I would go a bit earlier. We did have to wait for a while but they served cookies and lemonade while we waited and made sure we had all of our paperwork filled out correctly. As I have read on many previous reviews, the Grandeur does show a little age. However, she is kept very clean for the most part. The tables up on Deck 9 by the pool could have used more attention. Other people's dirty dishes were often left on the table longer than I cared for. The ship is decorated very nicely with some interesting paintings. The service on the boat was superb! From the Great Gatsby Dining Room to the Windjammer to the lounges to the stateroom attendants- they were all wonderful. To me, the excellent service was one of the main things that made our trip a true vacation. There were many fun activities on board. You can do them all or do none of them but plenty are offered. The Quest was the most hilarious thing ever- all adults with a good sense of humor should attend! The bingo was fun, although a bit pricey, but I guess that is to be expected when playing for an $8000 jackpot! The RockWall was fun and we never had to wait. Okay- I didn't climb it but my boyfriend did a few times. We also enjoyed the Love and Marriage game show, the Mardi Gras party and the Casino was a big favorite. All four of our ports were great. We did not book any excursions through RCI and not only had a great time but also saved a lot of money. We went on a tour of San Juan ( Juan Carlos was our guide- truly hilarious- and they were waiting to take people as soon as we got off) The city itself is pretty dirty and smelly but the mountains and beaches were nice. Definitely go see the Capitol Building and the two forts. St. Thomas is good for shopping. Prices are very reasonable. We took a van to Megan's Bay which is pretty. We snorkeled there and saw a few fish, but loved the clear warm water. The Dominican Republic had to be my favorite stop. We found George who took us on a tour of Samana on the back of his scooter/motorcycle type thing. We took along a few beers and thoroughly enjoyed it. He dropped us off at a local restaurant where we had a delicious red snapper and fried bananas lunch. Knowing a little Spanish here was definitely a help. Out last stop was in Labadee. I thought this was the most beautiful beach I have ever seen- it was quite rocky but once you went out a little it became sandy. The water was as clear as could be and very warm. If I ever go there again I would definitely do the zip line. That did look like an awful lot of fun. The Haitian market was a little much for me with all the please come see my things, they are the best, etc......... I know they are just trying to make a living but I have a hard time shopping in that kind of environment. Be sure to haggle with them as they will come WAY down from what they originally ask for. Our stateroom was perfectly fine. The bed was so comfortable and I guess one of the benefits to having an inside room is that it gets completely dark- we slept like babies! Out attendant, Alvaro, was fabulous. The bathrooms are small, which we expected, and I never really did master the shower thing without flooding the floor. It was always clean and Alvaro got us everything we could have needed. Our one disappointment was dining in the Great Gatsby Dining Room. The service was fabulous ( thanks to Eva) but the food wasn't all that tasty. Meats were tough and to me tasted all the same. We went there for dinner 3 times out of the 9 nights. We ate in the Windjammer or ordered late night room service instead and were perfectly happy. The Windjammer has so much stuff to choose from- good soups, salad bars, stir fries cooked to order, yummy omelets in the morning. We were also pleased with room service getting Caesar salads, chicken wings, and a turkey sandwich. They were also quite prompt. We ordered coffee to be delivered in the morning which made waking up easier as we could relax and watch Dan's Morning Show before heading out for the day. Getting off on our last day ( we were so sad!!) was extremely easy. We chose to carry off our luggage and were back in the car by 8:10 am. Stopped for breakfast on the way home and were back at the house by noon for a 3 hour nap!! A few suggestions- we took along big insulated cups which we could use for coffee or ice water. You can fill up your cup anytime on Deck 9 by the Windjammer. Definitely carry off your luggage- if you can manage it. Get to know your favorite bartender- they will know your name after Day 1 and know exactly what you want and how you want it. Load up on spinach salads and steamed veggies ( they were very good). We left the ship without gaining a single pound! Take advantage of all the activities, but don't bother buying the $30 dollar video. It was not worth the money. Definitely go to Deck 5 to watch the sunsets. It was a very relaxing, memorable vacation- have fun :-) Read Less
Sail Date July 2008
Well, as I sit here drinking my coffee that I picked up in Puerto Rico, and deal with facing reality, I struggle to come up with enough positive words to cover my review of our 9-night cruise to the Eastern Caribbean. We only have about ... Read More
Well, as I sit here drinking my coffee that I picked up in Puerto Rico, and deal with facing reality, I struggle to come up with enough positive words to cover my review of our 9-night cruise to the Eastern Caribbean. We only have about a 4-hour drive to Norfolk, but we arrived the day before, and stayed at the Marriott Waterside just a block away from the terminal. Though it is a little bit pricey, it is still a very nice hotel, and very comfortable! We actually boarded the ship around 1:30 and our cabin was ready, so we dropped off our carry-on paraphanalia, and headed out to start enjoying our vacation. We went on the Grandeur two years ago to the Western Caribbean out of Baltimore, and really enjoyed this ship. We actually felt like we were coming back home. Service and Crew I can't say enough wonderful things about our waiters and cabin steward and all of the crew who really go out of their way to make you feel at home! Joseph and Arnel were our waiters in the dining room, and they were just exceptionally attentive. Bahattin, our head waiter, always made a visit by our table to check on us. The food, in my opinion, was FANTASTIC!! Our cabin steward, Mr. Lindsay always had the room in tip top shape, and we always enjoyed his towel animal creations! I just hope that the powers-that-be from Royal Caribbean will see this review, and feel moved to give these guys that I have mentioned a promotion! They just work so hard, and never seem to tire of wanting to please their clientele! Cruise Director Dan was a stitch and could certainly keep you entertained! My dh and I are still snickering at his humor and the funny things he said. Belle, the activities director was always very perky and friendly, and really seemed to enjoy her job. Captain Jim Oleson was the man in charge of the vessel. We were lucky in that our balcony was not too far from the bridge, and had the pleasure of watching he and his officers maneuver the ship into various ports. He is a very down to earth gentleman. We had the pleasure of running into him occasionally on the ship, and he always smiled and acknowledged us. Our ports of call were San Juan, Puerto Rico, Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas, Samana, Dominican Republic, and Labadee, Haiti. San Juan - We had heard how easy it is to do your own walking tour of San Juan, so that is what we did. We walked up to El Morro, and took a bunch of photos. It was so neat to enjoy the local flavor as we watched the natives out on the lawn flying kites and just enjoying their families. After touring the fort, we walked back through old San Juan, and stopped in some shops to pick up some local souvenirs. St. Thomas - We had booked our own tour through T.J.'s Terrific Tours for the sightseeing, beach and shopping tour. We were a little bit concerned when he showed up an hour late, but he was a nice fellow, and we were still able to see the main attractions. He took us to Sapphire Beach, which was absolutely gorgeous, and not too terribly crowded. After spending about an hour and a half, we left Sapphire around 2:00 and had him return us to Havensight for shopping, and we are really glad we did as the traffic was horrendous. Next time around, we will likely just get a taxi to take us wherever we want to go, as they were plentiful there at the dock and around the island. Dominican Republic - We did the RC excursion to Cayo Levantado. That was a gorgeous beach as well and a wonderful day! We took the earlier tender, and were able to find lawn chairs under some palm trees, which was good for my dh who burns at the drop of a hat. That was a fairly popular excursion, as the chairs seemed to fill up by noon. The water was beautiful and felt great. There were some merchants selling local crafts and souvenirs. I brought home some locally made cigars (no Cuban cigars, don't worry!) Also, there are opportunities to have your picture taken with birds, a monkey, a boa, and a sea lion. I enjoyed having my picture taken with three out of the four. The sea lion will give you a kiss. He was a sweetie pie! Labadee - Another perfect beach day! We did the RC WaveRunner excursion, which was a BLAST! My dh and I each drove our own jet ski. That was a wonderful little adventure. Afterwards, we just enjoyed the buffet and hanging out on the beach under some sea grape trees. There is a flea market and an artisan's market. If you are not into bartering, I highly recommend going to the Artisan's Market, where everything is priced, and nobody harasses you to make them an offer. After haggling with the merchants at Cayo Levantado, my friend and I had pretty much gotten our fill, and we had a more pleasant experience at the Artisan's Market. Also, Haiti is a French speaking country. I always advise people, that if you make the attempt to speak even just a few words of their native language, you are likely to be treated that much nicer. I actually was given a better price on a piece of artwork by one of the artisans in Labadee since I spoke French to him. Besides, it's just common courtesy to try to learn and speak a little bit of the language of the country that you are visiting. We had perfect weather! The only time we saw it rain was the very last sea day. Otherwise, the skies were perfectly blue and sunny! Public areas and activities The ship was in great shape! It's very clean and well maintained. It has a certain elegance and charm that I don't know that you can find on any other ships. There were plenty of activities every day. We took part in a few, but mainly enjoyed just relaxing in the solarium. They also seem to have a great program for youngsters on board. We enjoyed dancing to the music of the quartet that would often play ballroom music in the Centrum and in the South Pacific Lounge. We don't gamble that often, but we donated a few bucks to the slot machines in the Casino. We also donated some bucks to the very last jackpot session of Bingo. The shows that we saw were of good quality. There were several comedians, a magic show, a juggler, and of course the music reviews by the RC Singers and Dancers. We took advantage of the spa services and dh and I both got massages, which felt so good. The products that they try to sell you tend to be rather expensive, but you are under no obligation to purchase them. I think the spa staff is very understanding in that aspect. That is just part of their job. We certainly look forward to going back on Grandeur, again sometime! She is our favorite ship, so far, and just love her! For us, that is the perfect size. You get so much personal attention from the crew. It's also so very nice and convenient to have a couple of ports of departure here in the mid-Atlantic, and not have to drive so terribly far or fly anywhere to catch the boat. Happy cruising to all, and may you have the same wonderful experience that we have always had with Royal Caribbean aboard the "Grandeur of the Seas"! Read Less
Sail Date July 2008
ms Maasdam, Eastern Caribbean December 7-17, 2005 I returned from an Eastern Caribbean big band cruise on Holland Americas Maasdam the week before Christmas. Here are some of my impressions; Ship: This was my third cruise on Maasdam, ... Read More
ms Maasdam, Eastern Caribbean December 7-17, 2005 I returned from an Eastern Caribbean big band cruise on Holland Americas Maasdam the week before Christmas. Here are some of my impressions; Ship: This was my third cruise on Maasdam, and she still looks as fresh and well maintained as she did in 1998. She did have a couple of mechanical problems, which slowed us for a few hours; hopefully these will be corrected during her scheduled 2006 dry docking. I think that here has been a major improvement in HALs food and the English capabilities of Indonesian staff also seem to be improving. Good cruise staff and thankfully the number of PA announcements is limited, although still not as good as Crystals no announcements policy. On the negative side, Maasdam is not suited to big band cruises because of very limited dance floor areas. Actually, I found the Prinsendam much more suitable for the big band theme. Cruise staff told us that the Crows Nest will be completely re-done during the dry docking, hopefully with a better dance floor. The other negative point about which I have regularly commented to HAL is the deterioration of the dress standard among a growing minority of passengers. HAL has already relaxed the mens dress standard so that formal means any jacket and tie, and a tie not required for informal nights, but there appears to be no effort to enforce even these relaxed standards. There were even a few men in slacks and sport shirts at the formal officers ball! Perhaps I am a snob, but I object to finding myself seated next to somebody dressed in shorts and a sweatshirt in the show room, bars, or casino at 9 or 10 p.m. on a formal night. Also, a few men wearing ball caps indoors, all day, throughout the ship, including breakfast and lunch time in both the dining room and Lido. Did their mothers not teach them any manners? Its a pretty sad commentary on manners when tour guides have to routinely remind men to remove hats before entering churches. Itinerary and Ports: this was a round trip out of Norfolk. Advantages of this are that (1) Norfolk is easier for us from the northeast to reach, (2) it avoids the chaos and extortionist longshoremen of Ft. Lauderdale, and (3) if you arrive early due to plane schedules, it is easy to kill a couple of hours visiting the adjacent Nauticus Museum and battleship Wisconsin. The museum even has luggage lockers to store your hand baggage. Norfolk will be an even better port when the new cruise terminal is complete. On the negative side, sailing from Norfolk to the Caribbean adds sea time. I enjoy sea days  Im not an island hopper, but it did reduce our stay in San Juan to 1/2 day to permit the normal early-morning arrival back in Norfolk. The Atlantic can also be pretty rough, and it was until we reached the calmer Caribbean. Perhaps they shouldnt attempt to hold the welcome reception the second night  my dining room seating was only about half full, and quite a few members of the Sammy Kaye Orchestra were also under the weather. Half Moon Cay (HALs private island). As this was my third visit and I am not a beach person, decided to spend a relaxing day onboard the ship. St. Thomas: great for dedicated shoppers, otherwise a typical Caribbean tourist trap. I regularly disembark here only to replenish my liquor supply. It used to be the cheapest liquor in the Caribbean, but I hear that St. Maarten is now cheaper. St. Johns, Antigua: deja vue walking around the town. Easy to imagine myself back in West Africa where I worked for many years. Same broken sidewalks and combined odors of cooking and raw sewage running down the gutters. My next cruise is scheduled to call here; Ill probably remain onboard. St. Maarten: a pleasant combined bus and boat tour of both the Dutch and French sides of the island. Id like to spend some more time here. San Juan, PR: excellent 3-hours+ walking tour of old San Juan. Walking is still the best way to see a city. Pleasantly surprised by the clean, well maintained old city, forts and churches and, in particular, our very knowledgeable local guide. Be aware, however, that you need to be in decent shape for 3 hours of walking up and down hills with temperatures in the mid to high 80's. Definitely would like to spend more than 1/2 day here on a future cruise. Entertainment: production shows standard high-end cruise ship fare, well done by a very enthusiastic cast of young singers and dancers. Interesting backstage tour and Q&A session with lead singer. Also, on HAL entertainers normally work in the library, so theres plenty of opportunity to chat with them if you are interested in show business. Sammy Kaye Orchestra: as mentioned earlier, band was hit hard by sea sickness the first couple of days but got better as the cruise went on. Roger Thorpe, the band leader, is interesting to talk to, although some thought his stories went on too long between numbers during the nightly 3-hour sets in the Crows Nest. I find it a little annoying that Roger sings (sort of) the title at the start of each number, but this may be a holdover from the old Sammy Kaye Orchestra. This is a personal opinion, but I didnt find the music quality up to that of both Harry James and Tommy Dorsey bands I experienced on past big band cruises. Interesting note: the bands excellent girl singer, Karina Calabro, was the on-stage singer in the opera scene in the film Pretty Woman. Too bad they dont give her more solos  much of the time she was just singing harmony with the Kaydets. All-in-all, a pleasant cruise with mainly nice fellow passengers and some good entertainment. Assistant cruise directors Kaelie and Jenn particularly pleasant and willing to dance with old guys like me! HAL may not be quite up to Crystals level, but it is getting closer. . Read Less
Sail Date December 2005
This review is a bit long so bear with me. The bottom-line was we had a great time and loved the Maasdam (this was our second trip on her). If you have any questions, feel free to email me directly at jdemaria@carolina.rr.com. For ... Read More
This review is a bit long so bear with me. The bottom-line was we had a great time and loved the Maasdam (this was our second trip on her). If you have any questions, feel free to email me directly at jdemaria@carolina.rr.com. For background, my wife and I are in our mid-40s and this is our 8th cruise (5 on HAL, 1 on RCL, 1 on Disney and 1 on Celebrity). We have 3 children (16, 13, 10) who also were on the cruise with us. We also cruised with my In-laws and Aunt and Uncle, so there were 9 of us on this family Christmas cruise. Pre-Cruise - We drove to Norfolk the day before and stayed at the Radisson. We were very pleased with their cruise and stay program which included free parking and a free hot breakfast buffet the next morning (we were getting in training for the Lido buffets!). They were very efficient at getting all 9 people's luggage loaded and dropped us off right in front of the terminal about 11:30 AM. Embarkation - Very smooth. It took less than 30 minutes and we were in line at the Lido around Noon. They had our rooms ready by about 1:30. One thing to note, if you've never left out of Norfolk, which we hadn't before. You have to stand in line outside for a little while and in the winter time it can be a bit chilly, so bring a jacket. Most cruise terminals we've left from are indoors but this is different. Food - We were very satisfied with the food and have always been on HAL. We ate in the dining room each night and had a great waiter. My filet mignon was cooked to perfection, had a Caribbean Pot Roast one night that was great, had Crab Legs, some good Mahi Mahi, Salmon, Prime Rib and a really good Honey Mustard chicken that I've had before and really liked. The soups and appetizers were aso good and the desserts each night were heavenly. We ate breakfast in the Lido each morning and enjoyed that. Great made to order omelettes, french toast, pancakes, etc. Also ate Lunch in the Lido and liked both the made to order pasta station and stir frys. Ports - Half Moon Cay - has to be the best of any cruise lines private islands. This time we just hung out and enjoyed the beautiful weather but in the past have done the horse back riding in the water, the snorkeling at sea and the para-sailing. St. Thomas - Did the tour with Sunny Liston. This is a great deal since it's only $20 per person and he met us at the ship, took us into town to shop for several hours, took us on a 2 hour tour of the island and dropped us off at Sapphire Beach for several hours and picked us back up and took us back to the ship. In essence, an all day excursion for $20, can't beat it. Here's his website if you're interested - http://www.sunnylistontours.com/index.html Antigua - This was our favorite port mostly due to the excursion we took and the fact that we'd never been to this island before. We went on Eli's Eco Tour through Adventure Antigua. They were about a 2 minute walk from where we docked and we started at 10 AM and went until 4 PM. Their boat took us practically around the entire island while they explained the history of the island and discussed the various landmarks. We stopped severla times to snorkel, climb up to the top of Bird Island for a terrific view, climb through some caves at Hell's gate (very cool) and they also provided a great lunch and unlimited fresh fruit juice drinks, water and some rum punch on the way home. All for $90 per person. This was the highlight of our cruise. Here is their website - http://www.adventureantigua.com/tour.html#EcoTour St. Maarten - We took a tour with Joyce Prince. As you may have read on this site, she comes highly recommended and we were very pleased with her tour. She picked us up at the ship and took us on a 3 hour tour of both the Dutch and French sides of the islands letting us stop to shop and sightsee and all the time answering questions and explaining the history of the island. She also took several of our group back to the ship while dropping some of us off at Orient Beach for the afternoon. That beach is beautiful with amy kind of water activity you would want. She then came back and picked us up and brought us back to the ship. Here is her website - http://joyceprince.com/ San Juan - We were only docked from 7 Am to 1 PM so we didn't have a lot of time (we also slept in a little since we were so tired from the other tours), however we did enjoy just walking through Old San Juan and doing some shopping and sightseeing. Entertainment/ship activities - We had never been on a Christmas cruise before and wondered whether we'd enjoy being away during that holiday. It helped that some of our relatives were with us but it also helped that the friendly staff of the Maasdam really made us feel like we were part of their family. We did Christmas caroling/strolling though the ship with the staff, we had a Christmas carol sing a long one day, we really enjoyed their International Christmas choir on Christmas eve where the various Filipino, Indonesian and American Christmas carols were sung so beautifully by the staff and crew, Santa of course was there on Christmas day and gave presents to all the kids. Randall Powell was in the piano bar and was excellent. We enjoyed his Broadway show sing alongs several nights as well as his name that tune songs. He told us next week is his last week on the Maasdam and he'll be starting to tour with the Broadway play Hairspray in Chicago. He'll be a real loss to the Maasdam but hopefully he'll be back someday. Their nightly shows were OK, nothing great. They had several comedians, some singers, a ventriloquist and the Maasdam singers/dancers. The one show we liked the most was called "Katzenjammer" and they were two dueling piano players that threw in some humor (sort of like a Victor Borge routine). Very good. I also enjoyed an Exploration Series of talks that were given by a former ship captain about ancient explorers, navigation, etc. Very interesting and informative. Disembarkation - A breeze. We docked at around 8 AM. They started calling people at 8:30 and we were off and back at the hotel with our car loaded and on the road by 9:30 AM. All in all it was a great cruise and we would definitely do it again. While I truly believe the Maasdam is a very elegant and beautiful ship and I like the low number of passengers on it, there were several people who had some issues in their rooms. We were very lucky and had no problems, but my In-laws had their power out in their room and most of the rooms on their hallway for about 6 hours on a sea day. Some of the public rooms (especially the Rembrandt Lounge where all the main shows were) seemed warm at times like the air conditioning may not have been working properly. I'm sure all of those things will be taken care of during it's dry dock in the Spring. Again, if you have any questions, I'd glad to try to answer them. Read Less
Sail Date December 2005
The 'beautiful and elegant' Maasdam (as its Captain is fond of saying) lives up to that description even after 500 voyages on the high seas. I had taken my annual Christmas cruise with Carnival and had not sailed on HAL since the ... Read More
The 'beautiful and elegant' Maasdam (as its Captain is fond of saying) lives up to that description even after 500 voyages on the high seas. I had taken my annual Christmas cruise with Carnival and had not sailed on HAL since the Rotterdam in 1978. Although this cruise was not quite as memorable as that one, it was still a very nice way to spend the holiday. EMBARKATION: I chose this cruise in part because of the Norfolk departure. Being from New Jersey, I didn't relish driving to Florida just to board the ship (or spending the time and money on airfare). Parking in Norfolk is a bit inconvenient - one mile away from the pier. HAL sends constant bus shuttles back and forth to the lots, but the buses are a challenge for older folks with mobility difficulties and too many people try to carry bulky luggage on the bus instead of stowing it underneath or dropping it off at the pier first (recommended). Also, it is open air parking (which could be problematic in winter). There is a covered parking lot across from the pier, but it charges $14/day instead of $10 and HAL cruisers are not encouraged to use it. Once in the Nauticus terminal, my embarkation was quick and painless. The trick to avoiding the crowds is to arrive about an hour or two after initial embarkation has begun. My stateroom was ready when I walked onboard - no need to loiter in the Lido. STATEROOM: I had an inside single cabin, which is my cabin of choice. If you crave a view, the TV has a 'view from the bridge cam' channel. Leave it on 24/7 (there is no sound) and - voila! - instant porthole. My cabin was very clean and well appointed. The new mattresses and bedding are incredibly comfortable and plush. The only minor disappointment is the toiletries offered. Although 'Dutch' they were meager and perfunctory: soap, lotion and shampoo - that's it. Only one 'American' outlet and the TV is plugged into it, so you can't recharge your phone (or whatever) while watching TV. SHIP: The ship is very tastefully decorated. After being onboard a while, you start to notice the glass cases of antiques and art (not that ticky tacky pseudo art they try to auction off, but real pieces of art). Being used to Carnival's 'in your face' style of decoration, it took a bit to adjust to the subtle HAL touches. I especially enjoyed the attention to detail in the carpets, draperies and furniture. The Rembrandt Showroom stage was trimmed in Dutch tiles and the HAL logo (the Half Moon ship) was woven into the rugs and etched into the glass sconces. The fresh flowers everyone talks about were present, but not very impressive. The lido tables featured orchids, but many were not in bloom, leaving just a stick in a pot. The dining room tables had carnations, many of which were quite wilted by day ten. Of course, being Christmas there were also poinsettias around. As with most of these early 1990's designed ships, the galley is plopped down mid-ship on deck 7, so it is impossible to get to the Rotterdam dining room lower level from the bow without going up or down one level. The only time I felt 'crowded' was going into the Captain's cocktail party where no less than FIVE (5) photo stations crowded the halls and caused long lines and waiting. Shame on HAL for being so greedy. Who needs five photos wearing the same clothes, no matter how nice? I also hate the constant flogging of the 'art' and 'bingo', but that's another story. Speaking of clothes, HAL gets the award for the most hideous staff uniforms (not the officers, of course, in their whites). Except for formal nights when they wear black, most of them must wear these ugly red and blue outfits in bright crayon box colors. Some of the women have these gray tunics that are about as unattractive as a garment can be. Someone at HAL, please re-think these uniforms! Awful! And they clash with EVERYTHING on the ship! FOOD: Only one major disappointment. No lobster. Nope. Not a one. Plenty of crab, prawns, scallops, salmon, shrimp of every description - but NO lobster. I only sampled one or two items I thought a disappointment (a salty Jamaican Hot Pot soup and a tough Tuna Steak) but overall the food is quite good. Not absolutely top notch, mind, but near. Deserts are varied and plentiful. If you like one, don't pass it up. It may not reappear on the menu! The Lido deck food is not all burgers, there are always hot and cold selections including a stir fry station, pizza station (don't bother), omelet station for breakfast, ice cream station (lots of unique flavors all hand scooped), and a Coffee Bar outside the Wajang Theatre. The coffee in the dining room didn't go down very well, so I switched to cappuccino. The coffee in the Lido was better for some reason. I never tried room service, but the usual complaint I heard is that things arrive cold when they should be hot. Breakfast and Lunch in the Rotterdam Dining Room are operated on a 'no reservation' basis, which unfortunately means that you sometimes have to wait till your table fills up before anyone will take your order or get you a drink. Also, being a single, there are times you just don't have the energy to meet any more new people or make conversation. Why not ask the diner if they would like a small table or a large one? Simple enough. SERVICE: Nothing but high marks for the staff of the Maasdam. My cabin and table stewards were very attentive but never intrusive. Everyone smiles and says 'hello' - even those you just pass in the halls. Everyone remembers your name (or tries to). The Lido dining hall isn't really a buffet, it is more of a cafeteria because the only time you help yourself is to salad. At all other points there is ample help: someone to give you a tray, someone to plate your food, someone to pour your beverage, someone to carry your tray (if you chose) and someone to clear it away. On a Carnival cruise, by contrast, all of this is self-serve (except the clearing away). HAL charges $10/day gratuity - of that 70% goes to your room and table stewards, the rest to 'unseen' workers. Also, if you decide to take your tips 'off' your account and give them cash - they are obliged to give that money to the Purser's office to be pooled. So it's just as well to leave the tips on your account and increase them if you so desire. Fortunately, service was so good I never had a second thought about changing my gratuities. Unfortunately, all of this information is not presented properly in one place at one time and must be gleaned from several different sources. Appropriately, the crew demure from discussing the matter and answer vaguely if you ask them about tipping. ENTERTAINMENT: I loved watching movies in the Wajang Theatre and that there is still daily Catholic mass on every voyage! On our trip there was a lecture series (on Navigation) as well as a great variety of entertainers: a contortionist, a piano/comedy duo, a cellist, a comedian, and the usual 'cast' production shows. These are strictly 'Vegas' style acts but the dancers work very hard and despite the limited appeal, they make the shows visually interesting at least. One show had a revolving subway car set and the costumes were tacky but always changing. Around the ship I enjoyed Randall at the piano bar and the string quartet in the Explorer's Lounge. I didn't care for the Manilla Quintet, but many did. HAL still puts on the Indonesian Crew show, which was a real mixed bag on our cruise. More like an Indonesian Ed Sullivan show. The Christmas programming was adequate, with the Cast doing a few favorite holiday numbers (some a bit under-rehearsed) and even the Cruise Director lending his Irish Tenor to "O Holy Night". EXCURSIONS: HALF MOON CAY is the only island of the five where we had to tender and it was dangerous getting on and off the tender. I understand now why HAL reserves the right to 'skip' Half Moon Cay at their discretion. Once safely on the island, it is quite beautiful. The only oddity being a huge BBQ kitchen structure that looks much too conventional for such an island. In ST. THOMAS we unfortunately had to dock at Crown Bay instead of Havensight. At least at Havensight one can just step off the dock to do some shopping and perhaps take the skyway to Paradise Point. Crown Bay is industrial and ugly and a $5.00 taxi into town - $6.00 to Havensight. If you have trouble with hills and steps, stay onboard in ST. THOMAS if at Crown Bay - you will find nothing but 'ups and downs' in ST. THOMAS. ANTIGUA's St. John dock is very manageable and directly near the downtown shopping. It is a bustling marketplace with only a few 'HAL endorsed' stores, mostly island markets and shops. Very quaint and picturesque. ST. MAARTEN's Philipsburg pier is perhaps the longest pier I've ever visited. The walk to the shore is nearly three city blocks! There is a 'golf cart' service for those who can't do the walk, but they charge $1.00 per person even if you are disabled. Wheelchairs stowed on the back cost an extra $2.00! If find this outrageous, but it is a Dutch port, not American, so ADA laws do not apply here. HAL would do well to stow their own golf cart and supply the service to it's mainly older clientele. Once on shore the town is still a water taxi or land cab ride away. I took a land/sea tour to the French side port of Marigot on the catamaran Explorer. It is only by sea that you see the yachts and the multimillionaire condos. PUERTO RICO is a short stay, but the ship docks right in Old San Juan and it is a a manageable pier. Just beware of the aggressive tour guides outside the terminal entry. If you don't mind a few hills (and don't care about seeing the Rum Factory) you can easily do this short stay on your own. OVERALL - The last night of this cruise (and reportedly a few of the other voyages on this route) can be a rough day at sea. Many folks (me included) stayed in their cabins due to seasickness or the inability to walk short distances due to the rocking of the boat. If you suffer from motion sickness, stick to Florida ports. If not, this was a terrific cruise on a beautiful and elegant ship. Read Less
Sail Date December 2005
Absolutely superb experience with Holland America. Our party included Husband/Wife/Daughters 14/12/10 years old. Highlights: Service, Dining, Entertainment, Shore Excursions, Cruise directors staff, daily activities...unbelievable good ... Read More
Absolutely superb experience with Holland America. Our party included Husband/Wife/Daughters 14/12/10 years old. Highlights: Service, Dining, Entertainment, Shore Excursions, Cruise directors staff, daily activities...unbelievable good time and worth every penny. Our children loved it...although they chose to stick together with us and participate in family activities (pool, sailing, snorkel, shuffleboard, games, sports etc). Overall, Holland America lived up to its reputation with 5 stars. Area for improvement: Half Moon Cay, St. Maarten, Antigua all a 10+. St. Thomas we found to be a dump...drive across island to Megan's beach...pathetic, filthy, cars on jacks, trash everywhere. All in all though, I would go on the same cruise but stay on the ship that day. Area for improvement: Entertainment was fabulous. MS Maasdam orchestra, singers, dance group and special acts were 1st class. All were a 10+ except "comedian" Dwayne Cunningham who was just not funny...and we found to be offensive. Read Less
Sail Date December 2005
In a nutshell, the Maasdam was between very good and excellent overall. On the day of departure, we thought it was a bad omen when the ship arrived in Norfolk at 1:30 p.m. instead of an early morning arrival, due to high seas. HAL had ... Read More
In a nutshell, the Maasdam was between very good and excellent overall. On the day of departure, we thought it was a bad omen when the ship arrived in Norfolk at 1:30 p.m. instead of an early morning arrival, due to high seas. HAL had already set up a local hotel ballroom with a modest lunch. It was about a 5-10 minute walk from the pier. The boarding process went very smoothly, in spite of the long lines as everyone was boarding at the same time. We finally departed Norfolk around 6:40 p.m. on Super Bowl Sunday. They had the game on virtually all over the ship, including every stateroom, with lots of snacks, burgers, etc. all over the place. Very nice touch. Our itinerary was: Sunday night & Monday at sea. Tuesday, Half Moon Cay, Bahamas. This was the only stop where we had to tender and it was handled very efficiently. One thing about HAL, they are VERY organized! We rented Jet Skis and the only down side was that you had to follow a guide and the Jet skis were governed to go no more than 35 mph. Wednesday was at sea, but unfortunately there weren't many poolside activities. They had trivia games and other activities throughout the cruise, but not much poolside. A nice feature on this ship is the retractable dome over the pool. It was opened slightly and as we went further south, it was opened even more. Thursday, St. Thomas, USVI. We went shopping, of course. "nuff said!" Friday, Dominica. I went fishing (caught a nice sized barracuda) while my wife took a tour of the island and tropical gardens. Lots of stores within minutes of the dock and also some "straw market" type street vendors. Saturday, Barbados. We went snorkeling over 3 "wrecks," which weren't really wrecks at all, but ships that had been purposely sunk to help build up the coral. The boat that took us to the snorkel sites was an open boat and every seat was taken. Very crowded and uncomfortable and no protection from the sun. The trip only lasted a couple of hours, so we had time to return to the ship and change, then we negotiated with a local cab driver who took us on a 3 hour tour of the island. There were 4 of us and it was $25.00 per person. It was the best rate we could get. The island is beautiful and a tour is a must! Sunday, St. Kitts. We went on a scenic rail tour, which was quite expensive and not worth the money. Basically, we passed a few villages (very poor conditions) and saw some nice beach views, but for the most part we rode through sugar cane fields. VERY BORING! Most people were unhappy with this excursion. The train only travels 8 mph, so picture taking is easy. The open upper-deck cars had wet seats as it rained and they did nothing to protect them from getting wet. The enclosed cars were air conditioned, but it wasn't necessary. It was so cold in these cars that people wore jackets. Monday, San Juan. My buddy and I just got off to go into town to buy flowers for our wives as it was St. Valentine's Day. We've been there many times before, and as we were only in port for a few hours, excursions weren't really a good option. Our wives made it another "at sea" day. Tuesday and Wednesday, at sea, with ice carving and a ship building contest (our boat came in 2nd)poolside. Wednesday morning also offered a "scavenger hunt" game with two crew members seeking out items from the audience members, just before the disembarkation talk. It's a MUST SEE. I don't want to give it away, but they advertise it as "you won't believe your eyes." Trust them, you won't! We all laughed a lot, for sure! Thursday morning we arrived early, and the disembarkation process was the best I've ever seen (this was our 7th cruise). It was well-organized and we were allowed to stay in our stateroom until our number was called. They had color-coded tags for our luggage and we simply went to that area of the terminal and easily found our luggage. Porters were standing by to take our bags to the bus that went to the parking lot. Very efficient and EASY! The food was very good, the service was good too. The rooms were cleaned as soon as you left - we swear that the cabin steward was living somewhere in our closet! We had a verandah room on Deck 9 and it was very big for a ship's cabin. I'd heard that HAL has some of the biggest cabins, and this one proved it. There was a small "radio" built in on the headboard of the bed, and one could easily listen to piped in music or the ship's announcement. Another nice feature. We had a TV/VCR and a refrigerator in the room. Plenty of closet space, and a Jacuzzi in the bathroom. The nice thing about the Maasdam is the size of the ship. We've been on a "mega" ship and found it to be overcrowded. We prefer the smaller ships and the Maasdam was very comfortable and there was no crowding at all. Elevators were quick in coming and getting on and off the ship in ports was quick and easy. There was a nice casino, compact, but yet big enough to have several table games and slots. Dealers were friendly as was all of the casino staff. I could probably go on and on, but I think you get the picture. We really enjoyed the cruise and the ship. The Maasdam is along the lines of older, very elegant cruise ships, and we thoroughly enjoyed our trip. There were some minor glitches, but overall it was worth it. I'd do it again! One final note -- be sure to go to the poolside grill for burgers, hot dogs, sausage, and chicken sandwiches, fries and a Mexican taco station. The chef, Ronaldo, is absolutely the best. He gives a bit of humor while cooking and had everyone laughing. He was great! Read Less
Sail Date February 2005
This was our first cruise with HAL. Previously we have sailed with Carnival, Princess and Royal Caribbean. Positives -- First and foremost we were not bombarded with offers, deals, etc. Virtually no hawking. If you wanted it you got it ... Read More
This was our first cruise with HAL. Previously we have sailed with Carnival, Princess and Royal Caribbean. Positives -- First and foremost we were not bombarded with offers, deals, etc. Virtually no hawking. If you wanted it you got it based on the many fliers and other info but not face to face contact. We much appreciated this after the nonstop hawking on Princess. I loved the size of this ship. Very comfortable but doesn't lose the intimacy we value. Our stateroom was ideal for this cruise and we spent a great deal of time on the verandah. We booked early so we got a fair rate and good choice of rooms, dining, etc. Our cabin steward was superb. Everything that we needed and was not intrusive. 20 plus years with HAL. The food was well prepared, presented and the dinning room crew was superb. The alternative on the Lido deck was nicely done as well. Just don't get hungry between 5 and 6 because nothing will be open. Room service is the fallback. The condition of the ship is a little faded and needs updating. I hope they keep them in the line up in the future because of the size. Tours from the ship were well organized. We took two this time. The snorkel on the catamaran on St. John and the most fantastic tour I have taken...should call it an adventure. The regatta out of St. Maarten, wow...I will never forget the fun of that one. Negatives -- The arrogance of the cruise director and the disdain of the hotel manager. Very ugly indeed. We had two overseas calls that appeared on our bill. We had not made the calls and did not even recognize the country code. First they implied that we had made them and then implied that my wife had made them without my knowledge. When I checked again on the charges she could not have been more disdainful explaining they could not trace the calls but would remove them. I left feeling like I had been caught cheating the system but their desire to set the bill straight was simply to avoid the issue. Hated that on a ship I really enjoyed. Overall it was a great time and one I look forward to repeating on other HAL cruises. Read Less
Sail Date January 2005
We arrived home in Syracuse Monday after a relaxing 10 days at sea. The cruise was terrific but boarding and disembarking was a nightmare. Norfolk doesn't have a regular cruise terminal so everything was chaotic. The Maasdam had ... Read More
We arrived home in Syracuse Monday after a relaxing 10 days at sea. The cruise was terrific but boarding and disembarking was a nightmare. Norfolk doesn't have a regular cruise terminal so everything was chaotic. The Maasdam had returned to port late so passengers were still trying to exit the port while the new passengers were arriving. We dropped off our bags and headed to the cruise parking lot only to be told they weren't allowing people to leave their cars until the incoming passengers had departed. Instead of waiting we opted to go to lunch and returned around two. Things weren't much better then -- there were high winds and the temperature was in the 20's. It was bitterly cold as we waited for the bus to take us to the port. The whole process from the parking lot to boarding the ship took 2½ hours. Embarkation was a very cold, frustrating procedure. By the time we boarded the ship the lifeboat drill was over. We had made reservations in the Pinnacle Grill for 8 that evening. When I called to verify our reservations I was told that they had been changed to 6:30 because of some conflict. I told the Maitre d' this wasn't acceptable, as we had lunched late. He then said I could pick another night and they would honor the two for one price. When we went to dinner in the dining room at 8:30 we went by the Pinnacle and found it completely empty. All that I can figure is we were the only late reservation so they decided to close early. A note on the Pinnacle, it's a terrific restaurant but is definitely not used enough. There were plenty of seats whenever we walked by. Leaving Norfolk in January I knew our first two days at sea would be very cold. The Maasdam has an enclosed pool area so I figured it wouldn't make any difference. Boy, was I wrong, enclosed doesn't mean indoor pool and the pool area was freezing. Something to keep in mind if you're doing a repositioning cruise across the Atlantic. The ocean was rough and windy the first two days making walking a real challenge. But after awhile you got use to it and you just went with the flow. Most of the public rooms were on the cold side heading south. A sweater of jacket was a must most of the time. I'm usually hot so I didn't really bring anything appropriate to wear over my dresses at dinner. Our room was very comfortable and never cold. We kept the thermostat all the way to cool. I don't know how the room would have been if it had been hot out. Our first port was Half Moon Cay and in my estimation they should have skipped it and just had a relaxing day at sea. We were delayed arriving due to rough seas and were only scheduled to be ½ a day anyway. They announced tender tickets could be picked up starting at 9:30 and then we could wait around the ship till we were called. This seemed like a terrific idea we didn't have to wait in the lounge a captive audience. We had been to Half Moon Cay a few times before so I didn't see any reason to try to be on the first tenders, big mistake. When I picked up my ticket at 9:50 we were number 28. As usual, anyone on excursion goes first -- that's where the money is. To make a long story long one of the tenders had a problem so there were only 3 ferrying people. They extended the barbecue till 2:00 because of all the delays and our tender number was called at 2:30. At this point we decided why bother so we gave our number to someone who had an even higher number. At 2:45 they announced you didn't need a number anymore but since the last tender returning was at 4:00 it would only give someone an hour there. So make sure you're in line early if you want to spend any time at the Cay. Luckily the rest of the ports we docked so tenders were no longer a problem. At St. Thomas we went to Sapphire Beach. We decided to try a beach we hadn't been to before. They rent umbrellas and chairs there but we didn't bother, as we're not much for sitting in the sun. The beach is beautiful and clean and the water was wonderful. The restaurant was no longer open but they did have someone working a gas grill, which sold hamburgers, hot dogs and chicken sandwiches for around $8 each. There is a bathroom at the restaurant but no changing area. We skipped shopping in St. Thomas -- my husband hates it so it was back to the ship to relax. It was our first time in St. John's, Antigua and we decided to try Dickerson's Bay. The cab ride was about $10. The beach is open to the public and you can also rent chairs and umbrellas there. Sandals takes up a large portion of the beach with their chairs but there are still a few areas you can just put a towel down. If there were changing areas and public bathrooms we never found them. But there were two pretty good restaurants that you get lunch for 10 to 15 dollars and they had bathrooms. The beach is a long sandy stretch with beautiful water, a great walking beach. After lunch we headed back to town and I got a chance to buy a few souvenirs for the grandchildren. Our fourth port was St. Maarten and we had decided to go to Orient beach on the French side. The taxi fare there depends how many people are in the cab. A single fare would pay $18. Going the van was full -- we paid $5 each. Coming back there were 4 people in van we paid $6 each. When we were there 10 years ago half the beach was nude and other half was family with maybe some one topless. This has definitely changed. There are now people walking all over nude and it can be very disconcerting. Unless your family is very open minded skip this beach with kids. You can rent 1 chair, one umbrella and get a drink for between 5 and 7 dollars. This also entitles you to use the bathroom facilities. The drink is either a fruit punch or rum punch no other options. The beach is one of the best beaches we've ever been to. There are many choices of restaurants to pick from but we decided to head back to ship to eat. My husband said he'd be worrying what people were wearing when they cooked his food. After lunch on the ship we took the water taxi to town, $5 round trip, and finished my souvenir shopping. We then took another swim right at the beach in town. Our final port was San Juan and we were only there in the morning. The day was overcast so since we couldn't go to beach we just stayed onboard and enjoyed the wonderful promenade lounge chairs. Our last two days at sea were very rough. We had swells from 18 to 28 feet and force 8 gale winds per ship information. The pools were closed and emptied because of the waves in the pools. It was dangerous just walking by the area because the deck was slippery from the water in a Jacuzzi. A lot of people were seasick I was very happy my Bonine worked. Because of the weather we were very late arriving in Norfolk. We didn't dock till 1 p.m. The Captain notified us the day before that we wouldn't reach Norfolk in time for some people to catch their planes. If you had made your reservations through HAL you didn't have to do anything they took care of any changes. If you made your own arrangements you were in trouble. You could use the phone free for 5 minutes to try to change your reservations. The ship being late seems to happen quite often. If you're making your own reservations you might think about spending the return night in Norfolk and travel the next day. We didn't get off the ship until around 3 and then things were just as chaotic as embarkation. There was no cueing for the buses to the parking lot. When a bus came people pushed ahead and got on the buses. Tempers were high and the poor lady, she was alone, who tried to control things got lots of abuse. We finally ended up at our car at 4 p.m. and headed north. Here are a few things I didn't touch on above: 1. The entertainment was pretty good. The first production show was very good but the 2nd was cancelled due to bad weather. There was a juggler and a magician, which isn't my thing, also, a comedian/violinist who was very good. He also did lecturing on the Caribbean during the day. Sorry their names escape me, another senior moment. 2. The food is your usual HAL food good but not great. The presentation leaves much to be desired. They never seem to keep the courses in sync -- if you skip soup they serve you your salad instead of waiting till everyone is through with their soup. So the end result it seems you're being rushed. The Lido has a wonderful variety both for breakfast and lunch. We never ordered room service so I can't comment on that. 3. We did the beaches on our own so I have no input on the excursions. To wrap up, we enjoyed the cruise. But then I've never been on a bad cruise. Is there such a thing? We would never travel out of Norfolk again until they built a regular terminal. This was our 12th cruise and the 5th on HAL. We're retired in our 60s and booked the cruise about I month before departure. If I can answer any other questions feel free to contact me. Read Less
Sail Date January 2005
This was our fifth cruise but our first cruise w/HAL-others were on Carnival (Fantasy,Inspiration,Jubilee,Triumph). We have also traveled to Bermuda many times and so I am bias because I have become accustom to a clean island, friendly ... Read More
This was our fifth cruise but our first cruise w/HAL-others were on Carnival (Fantasy,Inspiration,Jubilee,Triumph). We have also traveled to Bermuda many times and so I am bias because I have become accustom to a clean island, friendly people, a place where you feel safe/comfortable and little signs of poverty (to the tourists). We had a group of 6 traveling - 1 girl age 13 1/2 yrs., 1 boy age 10, 1 couple (us) in mid-30s and 1 couple (my parents) in early-mid 60s. We arrived in Norfolk about noon and were on the M.S. Maasdam by 12:45 p.m. enjoying lunch on the Lido. Embarkation was a breeze and our luggage was at our room lickity-split. The ship was kept VERY clean the entire voyage and the staff was VERY friendly/helpful the entire voyage. The food was EXCELLENT no matter where we ate (lido, grill, dining room, room service). The ship holds 1,266 passengers and we heard that we were 300 persons over that amount due to the number of children on the ship because it was Spring Break. Still w/the extra people the staff was very pleasant and helpful and the only drawback was if you got to breakfast on the Lido between 9 and 10 a.m. the line was a little long but seemed to move at an even pace even so. We had heard that the red meat in dining room was inconsistent so we had made reservations for mid-cruise in the Pinnacle Grill but we found the food, including the red meat dishes, in the dining room to be quite good and our waiter (Gede), busboy (Tri) and head waiter (Usman) were so enjoyable that we cancelled the Pinnacle. Our wine steward (Al) was very knowledgeable and pleasant. Even my daughter made mention that all the staff were so friendly and seemed to really enjoy their jobs. The atmosphere and moral of the staff sets the stage for a wonderful cruise experience. Our table was number 101 (Main seating)which was in a corner but right beside Usman who we enjoyed watching as he made the flambe every night. My son enjoyed the nightly Club HAL activity from 7:45-9:45 p.m. but because we had Main seating, he didn't get to eat w/us in the dining room. Once we got out of the Bay on Saturday night (4/3) the boat got a little rocky (12-20 ft seas). My children stayed in the room Sat. night and all day Sunday as did my husband on Sunday so they missed the first formal night. Monday (4/5) smoothed out and the rest of the voyage was very pleasant w/little or no motion on the ship. I will touch on what we did in the ports of call and then on the ship itself. Half Moon Cay was beautiful but I felt tendering to the island wasted a lot of time. The first tender didn't leave until 12:51 p.m. and we were on tender number 32 so it was almost 3 o'clock when we arrived on the island. The beach was very crowded because the Oosterdam was also there but we quickly found an open spot for our beach towels and my parents located 2 lounge chairs. You can get a cabana for $179/2 person, $25 each add'l person but considering the short time you are there, I am not sure it is worth the money. Immigration before disembarking in St. Thomas was a breeze. We booked the historical tour shore excursion in St. Thomas which was very pleasant and informative. Our tour guide, Sue, was very knowledgeable and it was money well spent. After the tour we ate lunch at the Waterfront Restaurant which was economical & delicious and the staff was friendly. Unless there is more to St. Thomas than what I saw, I would not choose to go back there as I found it to be on the same scale as the Bahamas. There was a lot of garbage sitting around in the downtown area, it was not a clean place and there seemed to be a lot of homeless people or what looked like homeless people milling around downtown. I didn't feel comfortable at all. After the tour, lunch and a few stops for trinkets/treasures, I was anxious to get back on the ship. You could easily get an island tour on your own once you got off the ship if you wanted. Our next stop was St. John's, Antigua. This was a lovely and clean island. Very friendly people. The dock area w/the shops was nice and the selection of souvenirs was good (barter on the prices). We did another historical shore excursion tour which took us over much of the island. Again, it was worth the money. Lovely foliage/flowers here. Lots of cows and goats. Again, you could easily get an island tour on your own once you got off the ship if you wanted. Next port of call was St. Maarten/St. Martin. We were there on Good Friday so most things were closed. We took a taxi to the Butterfly Farm at Orient Bay. A word of advice when in the Caribbean where it is VERY hot - Make sure the taxi's a/c works WELL! We made the mistake of getting in a 15 passenger van and sat in the very back seat. It was about a 20 minute ride to Orient Bay and my children and I nearly suffocated! The taxi prices are set and we found them to be reasonable ($5-$6/pp depending on your group size). The Butterfly Farm was well worth the trip. The shore excursion for it through HAL was $49 a person. The taxi ride for 6 people was $30 total one-way and the entry charge is $10 pp so it is much cheaper to do this excursion on your own as long as you get in a taxi w/good a/c. If you have the stamina, you could walk the 1/2 mile to Orient Bay Beach after visiting the Butterfly Farm. We paid someone $20 to give us a ride over there and since it was about 95 degrees that day, it too was money well spent. The staff at the Butterfly Farm was very friendly. They took extra time w/our son who was took a great interest in the coconuts that were on the trees (they broke them open and let him taste the juice and the flesh). Orient Bay Beach is nice. Love the soft Caribbean sand and the crystal clear waters which we found on every island on our voyage. We paid $5 each adult for a beach chair, umbrella and a drink near the TexMex. At the MonTiki, the cost was $7 each-but they had their own bathroom. Otherwise, you have to use the public bathroom which is going to cost you $.50 to use each time. For the first 10-15 minutes it is funny to watch everyone (clothing optional) but afterwards you get used to it and even my 10 year old son didn't pay any attention after awhile. My mother and daughter went parasailing and had a great time. Getting a taxi back to the ship was easy and the cost was $30 for all six of us (and the a/c worked!). San Juan, Puerto Rico, was next on the voyage. Immigration was a breeze again. What a pleasant surprise - it was a very clean place and the people were very friendly. Since we docked at 8 am (it was 9 before we were cleared to go ashore) and we had to reembark by 12:30 p.m. we didn't plan any shore excursions and were just going to walk around in the downtown area. Some tour companies were trying to fill up there buses though and so they offered us a 2 1/2 to 3 hour tour for $15 each. We made sure the a/c worked well in the van and all 6 of us and another couple were off w/Rafael, our tour guide. We went to the forts and toured New and Old San Juan. Rafael stopped where ever we asked him and let us stay for how ever long we wanted. He was very knowledgeable and friendly. We got back to the dock around 11:45 am and went in a few of the shops near the dock before boarding the ship. All in all, I would like to go back to Antigua, St. Maarten/St. Martin and San Juan but I wasn't impressed w/St. Thomas (maybe we missed seeing the nice side of the island?) Now for the ship. It is a nice ship. Not one that when you board you are going to say WOW but it is clean and well taken care of. If you are used to the entertainment on Carnival you are going to be a little disappointed. The shows are good on HAL but are missing something. It was great that the shows were family friendly though since some on Carnival are not. Shows included Bruce Block (w/Skippy the rabbit who, to me, was the highlight of the show-I think Skippy was the Easter Bunny on our cruise??), Pamela Blake (singer), Scott Wood (comedian) and the Maasdam cast (the lead singers were great). Caribbean Fire (Steel Drum Band) was excellent and I enjoyed the piano/violin music during dinner in the dining room. Eric the cruise director was very good and the captain was always right on top of things w/letting us know "where we are and where we are going". HAL had a lot of nice Easter activities planned throughout Easter day as well. My mother and I did a scalp/neck massage early in the cruise and also a facial in the Ocean Spa towards the end of our voyage that were both great. My son enjoyed Club Hal but I think they had there hands full w/all the kids on board. All of the children behaved most of the voyage but by Sunday night (4/11) they were obviously getting restless or mom and dad must have locked them out of the cabin because there were many that were running amuck on the ship - filthy language, rude to adults, taking food off the buffets w/their bare hands, destroying the lovely, large chocolate Easter eggs and leaving them on the floors in the hallways. We even heard that several youth had cut some of the cushions off the deck chairs and thrown them overboard. The staff did a great job making sure the ship stayed clean though but I wondered where these children's parents were ??? My teen daughter didn't do any of the Club HAL teen activities although I talked to many teens who hadn't done them as well but had met new friends and enjoyed just hanging out (w/o running amuck I might add). HAL did have lots of teen activities planned though. By the last night of the voyage, some of the adults, too, were getting cranky/restless. I was going to the photo shop to pick up reprints and a fist fight had nearly erupted over some people assuming that another passenger was trying to cut in line - I went to take care of business at the front desk instead. When I returned 10-15 minutes later, it seemed that they were still looking for blood because the cranky ones then jumped on my case because the photo shop employee asked to help me and handed me my reprints. Somehow, this was my fault ?? Perhaps these people had received their ship account bill for the cruise and were cranky about the shock from the bill? Perhaps they were the ones letting their children run about chaotically on the ship while they themselves harassed other passengers? No doubt, they needed a good nap, some help arranging their priorities in life (come on - starting a fist fight over line butting??? please!!!) and hopefully they have an appointment first thing back w/their therapist (or need to find a good one anyway). Our cabin steward, Sumardi, was also very friendly and kept our room tidy. I felt sorry for him the first few days of our voyage since it was wall-to-wall suitcases in our cabin until I got things organized and put away. He did a fabulous job even when we brought in lots of sand from our shoes and beach toys. All the staff worked very hard and even though the tipping is optional until May when they automatically add it on your ship account), if you don't tip these people and tip them well (because they deserve it) then you are just a cheapskate. We took in several movies on the ship (Chasing Liberty, Mona Lisa Smile and Love Actually). Nice theatre (love that the bathroom is near by too) and the Java Cafe is near by to get a drink/coffee and delicious popcorn before the movie. Also several good movies playing on the cabin TV during the day as well (not as new as the ones in the theatre though). Drinks specials each day were good. Lemonade or Tea served on the Lido in the afternoon was pleasant. My husband used the gym some and he found it to be nice as well. My dad was in the casino a lot and he had a good time but said the slot machines were "tight" (whatever that means). He won the snowball jackpot bingo (which my daughter made him play) on the last day of the cruise so that was a nice way to end a wonderful vacation too! Debarkation went quickly, our suitcases looked like they had been dragged through the mud (it was raining though) but we located them quickly after disembarking (about 10 am), boarded the bus back to the parking lot and pulled in our driveway at 11:45 a.m. All in all concerning the ship/staff/activities/entertainment, etc. it was the most pleasurable and relaxing cruise I have ever been on - one of the first where I don't feel like I need a vacation to recuperate from my vacation. carnivals' ships are spectacular but I find their service to be only moderate, food moderate. I guess I am getting older now and the beer drinking contests by the lido pool just don't have their appeal anymore. We almost didn't go on HAL because a friend told me it was for "old" people and we and our children would be bored. Let me tell you, no one in our group was bored! We would definitely cruise HAL again w/our children and recommend it to anyone of any age. We were also hesitant about doing a 10 day cruise because usually after 10 days of vacation, everyone is ready to kill each other and you are ready to go back home. But HAL is so wonderful that even after 10 days you don't want to leave and wish the cruise was longer. I was sad that we had to leave when we were sitting on the Lido while waiting to disembark. GREAT CRUISE, GREAT VACATION, CAN'T WAIT TO CRUISE W/HAL AGAIN SOON! Read Less
Sail Date April 2004
My wife and I were excited to receive an offer from HAL for past cruisers to sail aboard Maasdam from Norfolk and receive an outside cabin assignment for the price of an inside...an no airfare necessary, as we live 8 miles from the pier. ... Read More
My wife and I were excited to receive an offer from HAL for past cruisers to sail aboard Maasdam from Norfolk and receive an outside cabin assignment for the price of an inside...an no airfare necessary, as we live 8 miles from the pier. This was our 17th cruise and second on HAL. The ship is probably not the right one for the trip. They need a faster ship to cover the transit time, on time. The first four sailing from Norfolk have returned 4, 3, 5, and 2.5 hours later respectively than the scheduled 8am arrival. The long sail from St. Thomas, the last port, to Norfolk, at 19.5 knots just cannot be done in time if any little ripple in the seas or wind occurs, and it usually does. As a result the ship does not leave until, typically 7 or 8pm when departure is scheduled for 5pm. In fact, no one can get aboard until, typically, 3pm, and many several hours later. Knowing the variability of arrival, we monitored it via a local webcam at http://www.wvec.com/cams/norfolk.html. It did not arrive until 1pm on Feb 21. There were shuttle buses from a parking area available, or porters at the curb for those arriving by car. The terminal, at Norfolk's maritime museum, Nauticus, adjacent to the battleship Wisconsin, does a good job of handling inbound and outbound passengers despite the fact that it is not really a cruise ship terminal. Once we entered Nauticus our cabin assignment was checked and we were assigned a boarding number. We arrived at 3:15pm and received number 34. We were then given free admission to the museum, and HAL had sodas available. It was very interesting touring the museum and the battleship and made the time pass quickly. Perhaps not so for those who had arrived at the pier at noon. At 5, (4 hours after arrival), the suite passengers and the first boarding numbers were called for embarkation processing. It only took about two hours for them to board all the passengers, a remarkable feat. No credit card was necessary at check-in, as they provided a form and simply asked that we present it at the purser's office within 24 hours with the credit card information. I had been informed by phone that my cabin guarantee was an upgrade from Cat H to Cat E cabin 728. In fact, we found out at check-in that our cabin was 782, and the bags had the wrong cabin on them. We were very happy to find that in the 3 ½ hours between the time we dropped them off and the time we got to our cabin, they had corrected the bag tags and all luggage was in the cabin. Nicely done! The lifeboat drill was delayed until 10:15am on the first day at sea due to the later boarding. The cabin was on A deck, the lowest passenger deck, exactly amidships on the port side, and overlooked the pier. At 182 sq ft, it was ample, with convertible twin beds, a room desk/dressing table, with 8 large drawers, a sofa bed, adjustable height coffee table...perfect for room service...and a hassock. There were four closets, and the bath had a full tub. The only amenities were shampoo and lotion, other than soap. The TV carries no local TV in any port other than CNN, but does have nearly first run movies running on two channels, TNT movies, and some series like ER. There are the usual port information and cruise video channels, and the ship channel that alternated between maps of the voyage, weather, and ship's information and deck plans. Room service is available 24/7, but with a limited menu at night. I had preordered, by phone call to HAL customer service in Seattle, a liter of Beefeater's which came with an obligatory 3 cans of tonic water. It was not there on arrival, but was delivered the next morning and there were very willing to exchange the tonic for some soft drinks my wife preferred. We also packed a case of wine in a wine shipping box, and checked it in with baggage. It arrived fine. Those attempting to carry hard liquor on board had it confiscated at the pier. Most had gotten the word of this recent change in HAL policy. All liquor purchased in the onboard shop and in all ports was gathered at the gangway and stored till the last afternoon when it was delivered to the cabin. We asked the cabin steward to keep one bottle of champagne iced and to provide a second bucked ice daily. He not only quickly accommodated us, but also provided two champagne glasses. Since we had requested second sitting, fortunately since we didn't get aboard till a little after 7pm, I checked the diagram outside the dining room on deck 8 and found that our table was for two, as requested, table 139. I can say, without hesitation, that this probably the best dining team we have ever had. The headwaiter was present constantly, the waiter was very efficient, and the assistant waiter outdid them all. If we wanted to try a second entrEe, they brought just the meat or fish without the side dishes. On lobster night, we requested two tails and the plates arrived with two tails on them, and the waiter later walked around offering more from a platter. Every night among the dessert choices was a flambE, which included bananas foster, crepe suzette, pear flambE, baked Alaska with cherries jubilee on top, and so on. Entrees included such items as halibut, grilled prawns, rack of lamb, filet mignon twice, crab legs, chateaubriand, orange roughy, lamb chops, Dutch recipes on Dutch night, lobster tails, cod, salmon, and prime rib. On the night we left St. Maarten, they also held a BBQ at the Lido Pool with steaks and king salmon from 6-8pm and offered happy hour prices on select beer and shots. Breakfast in the Lido includes the usual mix of fruits, cereals and cafeteria hot table, but also includes eggs to order and an omelet station. Staff were eager to assist with trays and help with beverages. In a few days we noticed some even called us by name. Lunch in the Lido has standard cafeteria fare, but included such items as a stir-fry station on several days, pizza, and a sandwich station for made to order sandwiches. By the Lido Pool is a station open from 11-5pm offering hot dogs, hamburgers, grilled chicken breast, and a hot table with tacos, burritos and fajita fixings. Breakfast and lunch in the dining room is only on the upper level, on deck 8. The dining room offers eggs benedict every day I was happy to discover. Casual dinner is also available in the Lido. As you may surmise from this summary, we were very pleased with the food on the Maasdam, with one exception. On "Dutch Night" we opted for a reservation in the Pinnacle Grill, the featured specialty restaurant, with a $20 per person surcharge ($10 on sailing day). We had a reservation for 8:30pm and arrived a few minutes early. Forty minutes after we were seated they finally took our order. By then the wine steward, who had held the wine tasting the first day at sea, had opened the wine I had brought to dinner and helped himself to a large glass without asking instead of the tasting cup. Butter arrived 20 minutes after the bread. While water from a pitcher was adequate in the regular dining room, the Pinnacle poured bottled water, at extra charge, without asking. An hour and 20 minutes later, still only on the second course, I tried to order another bottle of wine. They were out of 15 wines. I went back to the cabin and brought another of my own. The presentation was fine and the food was good, but no better than the dining room food. There were huge time gaps between courses, and they tried to explain it away that every order was prepared from scratch to order and takes time. The restaurant was less than half full by that time and that excuse doesn't fly. Gracefully, they said they wouldn't charge the corkage fee for my wine because of the slow service. We enjoy dancing before dinner and after shows. The Ocean Bar on Deck 8 each evening had a trio playing traditional dance music, and before dinner hot appetizers were brought to each table. The Crows Nest on Deck 11 had a solo musician who played danceable music until about midnight, when the DJ took over, playing until ?? It was not very crowded at any hour. Show entertainment was a weakest link. The singers, dancers, costumes, and production were far inferior to almost every other ship we have sailed. Fortunately there were only three production shows in 10 days. Other nights offered singers (Gail Nelson with Broadway experience, and Bill Burns a very talented impressionist and singer), comedians and variety artists, and an Indonesian crew talent show. Every evening there were two shows, one after each dinner seating, except on the last night both shows were before dinner. I was happy to find that HAL was not aggressive in pushing the daily tropical drinks. They were more visible on a few days, but nothing like we have experienced on other lines. The deck waiters circulated with iced tea or lemonade daily in the afternoon, and high tea is available. Dress code was as follows: Day 1 Casual Day 2 At Sea, First Formal night, and it was widely observed Day 3 After Half Moon Cay, Casual Day 4 At Sea, Second Formal night Day 5 San Juan, Casual Day 6 St Maartin, Casual Day 7 Antigua, Casual Day 8 St Thomas, Informal (coat and tie/cocktail dress) Day 9 At Sea, 3rd Formal Night Day 10 At Sea, Casual The photographers were available for portraits on formal nights and there were essentially no lines, amazingly. On the first formal night, the Captain's Welcome Aboard Dinner, they had a receiving line leading into the pre-dinner reception, and there were two portrait stations everyone passed through, and one snapshot with the Captain. They did offer a free cruise video if you purchased four 8x10 pictures during the cruise, and we took advantage of it, as we could see from the video which was run each day on TV that we were also in some of the shots. The video was a $34 value. Port Days: Half Moon Cay. We arrived about 1 hour later than scheduled due to the late departure from Norfolk. The first tenders left at 1245. At 1:45 we went down for tender tickets. At 3pm we got on a tender. We returned on the last tender at 5:30. The process was so slow that the Rotterdam lent several tenders to help shuttle passengers. A strictly personal observation was that a more elderly passenger make up made for slower movement into and out of tenders. As usual we enjoyed the beach and snorkeling (I bring my own gear), and there were many more fish where the floats met the breakwater than I had ever seen there. The water is so clear you can see fish in thigh-deep water without a mask. They even nipped at my wife's knees, so I suspect they have been fed there. The sea day between these two ports was Fat Tuesday, and the dinner show was Party Gras. Advertised as a Mardi Gras from Bangkok to Calgary to Brazil, it turned out to be their standard show. However, at 11pm in the Crow's Nest they held a costume Mardi Gras Party with Hurricanes at happy hour prices. Having chanced they would have some celebration we brought masks about 20 sets of beads and two umbrellas. My wife Karen won the "Miss Mardi Gras" for original costume: Her formal beads, feathered mask, and an open parasol. She won a bottle of champagne, and I received a silver 8x10 picture frame just for participating. Lots of fun, with dancing snacks afterward. Best crowd of the cruise in the disco. San Juan. We arrived at 7:30am on Ash Wednesday, and US Immigration held mandatory immigration checks beginning at 7:30. Lines moved quickly. The ship was cleared about 9:30am. We went back to bed for nap and left the ship at 11:40. We took the free trolley bus from the stop across the street from the pier. We rode past El Morro, which we had visited on other trips and rode into Old San Juan to a stop near the old Cathedral. We were in time for noon Mass and distribution of ashes. We then walked to Hard Rock Cafe, only to find it closed for street construction. We found there was now a Senor Frog's in San Juan, behind the Windham Hotel a block from the pier, and we walked there to enjoy lunch, stand on a few chairs, and have the usual raucous time there. We walked from there to the Dept of Information building on the waterfront and partook of the free Puerto Rican rum drinks, and then walked back to the ship. Underway at 6pm. St Maarten/Martin. We arrived in one of our favorite ports at 7am and the ship was cleared at 8am. We went ashore at 9pm, rented a car at the end of the pier with no reservation, a Toyota Camry with a/c for $45 all day. Due back by 5:45pm. We drove past the airport to see Maho Beach where the planes pass very low overhead, past Simpson Beach and a very resorty area, and found Cupacoy Beach. The beach is down a stairway along sandstone cliffs, with sandy beach. It is, however, clothing optional despite being on the Dutch side, just short of the boundary from the French side. Water was affected by wind, but the snorkeling was good. Chairs and umbrellas are available for rent, and drinks available from a vender at the top of the cliff. We left in time for lunch and drove into Marigot, the capital of French St. Martin. As we have been here on Sundays before, when everything was closed, we were looking forward to lunch in a French sidewalk cafe and some shopping. We parked in the free public lot, and ate at La Vie en Rose, complete with french bread and wine. However, French St. Martin is using the Euro, which is currently $1.25US to 1 Euro, and things are expensive. They don't make much effort to cater to tourist trade. There is a flea market across the street and we purchased T-shirts for the kids there. Then on to Grand Case beach, where I had previously seen many large starfish last year. The beach is deserted and sandy, but without facilities except in the waterfront restaurants. Unfortunately, only one starfish this time. Then we drove on to Orient Beach and spent an hour there before heading back at 5pm to Philipsburg. We returned the car at 5:40pm and asked them to shuttle us back into town, which they did. Shops were on the verge of closing, despite the fact that Maasdam and the Radisson ship were in port till 11pm. Some folks went back out to casino's after dinner. We did catch the Guavaberry Emporium in time, and on the main shopping street purchases our liquor for several dollars per bottle below the prices aboard Maasdam in the duty free shop. Cigarettes were also $1 per carton cheaper there. Fortunately for me our favorite jewelry shops were closed. Antigua: Arrived at 7am. We had purchased tickets to the Catamaran Sail and Snorkel Excursion and reported to the Rembrandt Lounge at 8:40. We left at 9am, and walked a short distance to the Tamiami Catamaran, which made about a 30 minute run to Paradise Reef in deep water. Water entry was from the boat into deep water, so this is an excursion for experience snorkelers. There reef coral and the fish were impressive. After about 45 minutes of snorkeling, we reboarded and set sail for Runaway Beach where they anchored in 10 feet of water and some chose to swim to the beach. My wife does snorkel but the bar was opened and never-ending strong and tasty rum punch was available, as well as soft drinks and other liquors. After about 30 minutes we left and returned to the pier at 1230pm. There is a duty free mall at the end of the pier in St John's. While me wife napped I did succumb to the lure of a nice ruby, which they mounted as a pendant on gold chain at a jewelry shop for my wife's birthday present. We sailed at 6pm. St. Thomas: Arrived at 7am, berthed at the pier at Havensight, and Immigration checks again at 7:30am. We were permitted to leave the ship as soon as we individually had been cleared. We were on the pier at 8:20 and on the way in a taxi, $16 for two, to Red Hook. We caught the 9am ferry, $3 per person each way, to Cruz Bay on St John's. The ride takes only 13 minutes. We took a taxi, $4 per person, from the pier to Trunk Bay, National Park ($4 per person admittance), arriving about 9:35. No crowds yet. There is in underwater snorkeling trail marked leading to an island where there was plenty of coral and plenty of fish. I really enjoyed it. The park also has lockers, showers, restrooms, and concessions, including equipment rental. We caught a taxi at 11:30 back to Cruz Bay and took the noon ferry back to St Thomas. We arrived back at the Havensight mall a little after 12:30 and had plenty of time to shop before returning to the ship by 2pm. The ship sails at 3pm for the long trip home. Two ladies, arriving late, after lines were cast off, reportedly were fined about $3,000. There was a sailaway party on deck, the only one of the cruise. The cruise director didn't think the passengers would be interested. We would have been. It was in the 80's and HOT. In fact, we had no rain the entire cruise in any port. By the next morning a weather front 1,000 miles wide had intervened along our route while East of Cuba. By mid day 12-15 foot waves, with some swells to 25 feet and 32 knots of wind from the north caused the ship to plow along, banging head on into the waves. The water in the pools was leaping out and the pools were closed. It was still in the 70's and partly sunny. The Mariners Society repeaters reception was held at noon in the Rembrandt Lounge in the bow of the ship, and it was all people could do to walk up to receive recognition and a photo. Many of the people recognized for many cruises on HAL were elderly and having a rough time moving around. It was a relaxed day, however, and great movies were running in the theatre and on TV, such as Seabicuit, Under the Tuscan Sun, and others. I enjoyed Intolerable Cruelty, too. Dancing that evening was a bit tricky due to the motion of the ocean. By the morning of the last day at sea, the weather had calmed, the water was like glass as we passed the Carolinas, and weather was still in the upper 60's and partly sunny. By the last day the ship was out of wines, bagels, lemons and limes. Luggage did not have to be out until 1am. We celebrated my wife's birthday at dinner. We were scheduled to arrive at 8am, but the captain had announced the day before that we'd be in about 10:30, which was right on target. This allowed a leisurely wakeup call, and breakfast at 9am. Weather was 60 and cloudy with a forecast of increasing wind. At 1045 the first customs call was made. We were permitted to remain in our cabins until debarkation. The first debarkation group was not called until noon, and we were called about 2:40pm, in the last group because we lived locally and were driving. While no lunch had been planned, without announcement they opened the Lido about 1pm and dredged up prime rib and salads, much to me excitement! All in all, a great trip, outstanding food, wonderfully friendly and helpful staff, a low key cruise director who was as genuine in person as he was when he was "on", and we are booked for the next one, an 11 day Maasdam in December. There is talk that they may consider replacing Maasdam with a faster ship by then. I hope they don't shorten the St. Thomas stop, as it is just long enough to do anything meaningful. Read Less
Sail Date February 2004
Previously we have cruised twice, both times with Celebrity. This was our first cruise with HAL and probably our favorite so far. On the negative side, Norfolk is not ready for cruises. The ship was very late getting into port and ... Read More
Previously we have cruised twice, both times with Celebrity. This was our first cruise with HAL and probably our favorite so far. On the negative side, Norfolk is not ready for cruises. The ship was very late getting into port and embarkation was slow and annoying. We had a low number and still had to wait in line for a very long time, unlike our previous experiences in Ft, Lauderdale and Charleston. disembarkation was extremely slow, taking about 3 hours I believe. Once aboard everything changed. Our standard inside cabin was much larger than the ones we were accustomed to on Celebrity. It was clean, pleasant, and our attendant was excellent. There was much less pool-side activity on this ship, which we liked. Also, it was a treat to be able to get a lounge by the pool without having to be out very early. Celebrity is known for their excellent cuisine, however we much preferred the meals in the dining room on this ship. Every course at every dinner was excellent. The selections are a bit less gourmet, but to our taste they were superior. Neither my husband nor I had a tough piece of meat which hasn't always been the case previously. Their breakfast pastries and desserts were much better on HAL as well. Don't miss the pecan danish offered on alternate days at breakfast at Lido. My only disappointing meal was in the dining room at breakfast-- cold dry waffle. We took all breakfasts at Lido after that. The service was friendly and special. The ports on this cruise were the typical eastern ones. Had been to all of them before except for Half Moon Cay which was exquisite. We, as the sign says, didn't want to go home. Wish we could have stayed longer there, especially since our late arrival due to late departure from Norfolk. Be warned that there are rough seas on your return from the Caribbean to Norfolk.. Many people were absent from dinner on the last formal night. Too bad;it was the filet/lobster/baked alaska parade night. I wouldn't recommend Norfolk to anyone with a seasick situation. We were fine, although it made taking a shower quite interesting! It was a great cruise: beautiful weather, friendly people, excellent service, a charming ship. Who could ask for more? We'll be back. Read Less
Sail Date February 2004

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