Incan Empires, 25 February - 25 March 2018
Route: 28 day voyage: San Diego – Cabo San Lucas – Huatulco – Puerto Chiapas – Panama City – Trujillo, Peru – Lima – Manta, Ecuador - Puntarenas, Costa Rica – Corinto, ... Read More
Incan Empires, 25 February - 25 March 2018
Route: 28 day voyage: San Diego – Cabo San Lucas – Huatulco – Puerto Chiapas – Panama City – Trujillo, Peru – Lima – Manta, Ecuador - Puntarenas, Costa Rica – Corinto, Nicaragua – Puerto Quetzal, Guatemala – Manzanillo – Puerto Vallarta – San Diego
1. General Comments: We are regular cruisers, and the focus of this cruise was to see “something different.” We spent 13 days on land and had 14 sea days. Seven stops were new to us. Only two stops (Cabo and Panama) required tendering. All the other stops were in ports that had varying degrees of support for cruise ships. This is not a “regular” cruise and is only done once a year. We were a full ship; due to the length of the entire cruise, most passengers were of older age. There was only one child (pre-school) on board. More than 100 passengers got off in Peru to visit Machu Picchu; they were replaced by the same number of new passengers who had had done their own pre-cruise travelling and then took the shorter, 2-week, cruise back to San Diego. This resulted in an influx of younger passengers.
We had a Neptune Suite on the 9th deck that made for a comfortable month’s cruise.
2. Travel to San Diego and Embarking: While we made our own plane arrangements, we did use the HAL hotel (Sheraton Marina) and shuttle to the pier. This is a comfortable hotel on the yacht harbor; it was a bit crowded, though, with overnight guests for two HAL ships, plus attendees at some conferences. The HAL service, from greeting at the airport to delivery the next day at the pier, worked well. Having checked in on-line, we got on the ship quickly (once we got through the port security check). Our cabin was ready, and luggage appeared later in the afternoon.
3. The Maasdam: An attractive ship, partly because of its small size (1,300 passengers). It is a bit tired; it is going into dry dock around August –September before it moves to the Pacific for 2019. However, the facility was still in good shape and the crew was topnotch. Our cabin was comfortable with all the space and storage drawers/closets. Details can be seen in the cabin descriptions on the HAL website. The bathroom had a tub shower. There was a small safe and a small refrigerator. The flat screen TV (set up for DVD movies) received the usual news, movies, music, etc. You get a daily planner in your cabin the night prior. You need to read it carefully as there are few announcements on the PA system. The Captain does a daily report from the bridge, and the Cruise Director may make a daily announcement on activities. There is also a daily newspaper based on the New York Times.
Air conditioning on board is an issue. Unless you love cold temperatures, bring a sweater. The thermostat in the cabin did not adjust to any temperature. Thus, near cool San Diego, it was very cold. As we approached the 80 – 90 degree countries with high humidity, the cold a/c actually felt pretty good. This not only applies to the cabin as temperatures fluctuated in the different public areas.
4. Meals: We had pretty good results with HAL’s “As You Wish Dining” policy. We could not make our desired reservation (7PM table for two) on-line before boarding. We asked out Neptune Lounge Concierge to see what she could do, and the best she could get was a “possible.” Actually, it turned out that we had our table for 2 at 7PM right from the first night; we were shifted around a bit for 2 or 3 nights, but then we were settled in with the same table – and the same staff – for the entire cruise. We should note that no matter what ship or line you are on, including the Maasdam, the first night’s dinner is disorganized as diners and staff sort out who sits where and when. The entire ship dining room is on two levels, and it’s noisy.
Quality of food was very good, but not exceptional. There were times when we or fellow guests would have liked something simple and not all “gussied up,” but it was not available. New for us, was the offer of smaller portions (“half” or “small”) when we were not hungry. On the other hand, if a guest wanted more of a dish or cut of meat, it was quickly provided.
Lido Buffet: We used it for lunch and a couple times when we wanted just a bite for dinner. There was quite a variety of good food, whether you wanted a meal, sandwich, or salad. The dessert area was equally varied.
Specialty Restaurants: We only had lunch once in the Pinnacle Grill. The dishes, presentation, and staff were excellent.
There are plenty of bars and food outlets on board. You cannot go hungry or thirsty. We settled into the Ocean Bar for after dinner drinks. The music there was pleasant for listening or dancing.
5. HAL dress code: There were four “gala” nights; the rest were all “smart casual.” “Gala” for men meant anything from tuxedo to jacket with no tie. Maybe one day HAL will eliminate this “gala” or “formal” business and accept that passengers are on vacation and want to relax and be comfortable. Like to dress up? Sail with Cunard; we have, and my tuxedo got a workout.
6. Shore Excursions: Make your shore excursion reservations online! This saves you standing in line at the ship’s tour desk. It will also save you some money as we noticed some excursions cost more in the onboard reservation forms compared to the website. If you know the ports of call and want to travel by yourself, then, of course, you don’t need the ship’s tour office. Tour prices are not cheap; you are paying for the convenience of having the ship organize the tour rather than you doing it after you get ashore. Also, if you obtain your tour through the ship’s staff, you have support when there is a problem.
In Cabo we had a whale watching tour cancelled due to the weather and seas. As we had no interest in a different tour, our refunds were entered in our shipboard account. Our Puntarenas tour was cancelled as the only road we were to take into the mountains was closed for repairs. We did opt for a different tour; the refunds and new costs were all entered in our account.
Travellers with any mobility issues should do their homework in studying shore excursions on this cruise. Can they deal with cobblestones? Also high humidity and heat up to 100 degrees? Can they walk in gravel and sand? Besides stairs in buildings, can they handle stairs in buses? In many of the modern 40+ passenger buses it takes 6 narrow steps from curb level to step on the bus and get up to the aisle leading to the seats.
In some countries, 20-passenger mini-buses are used due to narrow streets. However, they are totally inconvenient for passengers who are around 6ft. Further, there are two seats toward the back where the rear wheel covers protrude above the floor. It is impossible for anyone over 5’1” to sit in these seats, especially since the tours using these mini-buses average about 3 hours driving time. Telling a 6 footer to “find another seat” is NOT a solution, nor is telling a 5 footer stuck on the wheel cover to do the same. A possible solution is to not fill these small vehicles to capacity.
Travellers, and their agents, need to research – beyond the cruise line shore excursion descriptions – to learn if they will be able to participate in, and enjoy, the excursions on this cruise.
7. Shipboard entertainment: We saw a few shows of the review type and the guest artists. They were pleasant and entertaining. The combos playing in the lounges and bars were fine.
There were different guest lecturers on board. Of note was Michael Chriss, an astronomy professor from the University of Arizona. His “sea day lectures” on the heavens, related to history and the arts, were entertaining and educational,
The ship has a daily schedule full of activities for all tastes: lectures, bingo, exercising, movies, etc, etc. The library was so-so; we recommend you load up your Kindle or iPad with books before boarding. The art auctions were ever present, but were relatively low key.
The casino seemed to have good business. The selection of duty-free liquor on board was not great, but adequate; you order your liquor and it is delivered to your cabin before disembarking. There will be plenty of opportunities for you to have your picture taken by the ship’s photographers--pricey, but a good souvenir.
Early in the cruise, passengers were notified that HAL was changing the shops on all its ships with different/new vendors. The changeover on the Maasdam began on this cruise; by 21 March all the shops were closed, and personnel were busy packing up all their merchandise. It was rather pleasant to have NO stores on board for three days!
8. Tipping: Not a problem if you sign up for the recommended amounts.
The amounts are charged to each person’s shipboard account. You have nothing more to do. You only need to tip separately (cash) the person who brings your room service. Your bar and wine bill automatically adds 15 percent. If you want to tip anyone for exemplary service, you can give him cash in an envelope.
9. Settling of Accounts: During your voyage, anything you purchase on board (drinks, souvenirs, tours, duty free items, photos, etc) is punched into a computer. You receive a receipt for everything. If you keep the receipts, it is easy to check them with your account. You can access your account with your key card, and get a printout, at a machine (looks like an ATM machine) next to the Front Desk. If you have a computer or phone, you can access your account through the ship’s WiFi. There is NO charge for this service; you just have to register. You should be able to settle any bill questions beforehand and not spend departure morning in line at the Front Office sorting it out. We did receive a final paper bill the morning of our disembarkation.
10. Disembarkation: Not bad. We could remain in our cabins until called. We were even called ahead of schedule! It was smooth going in the terminal getting our luggage and passing through Customs and Immigration. As we had hours to kill before our late afternoon flight, we took the city tour/airport drop off trip. There were personnel outside the terminal pointing us at the correct buses, and we were on our way.
11. Conclusion: This was a fascinating trip; despite the little glitches, we were happy to have taken it. This is the kind of trip you do once. We would not repeat the exact trip, but we would not object if some of the stops appeared on another – different – cruise. Read Less