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Holland America Line: Maasdam

Fodorite Reviews

Average Rating
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Apr 7, 2014

Brazil

We joined a 49 day cruise mid-way in Rio for its remaining 26 days. We experienced great food, an interesting itinerary, and outstanding service. We have been on more than a dozen HAL cruises and the quality of the CREWS is what brings us back, time and again. We enjoyed all our other cruise line experiences (except Norweigan) but there seems to be a special attitude aboard HAL ships. Overall our cruise was most enjoyable with the highlight being

the 1149 mile journey up the Amazon to Manaus. We dined most evenings in the main dining room. The food was well prepared, presented nicely, and served hot. The wine selection was very good, widely varied, and reasonable. The menu offered good variety and our Vegan companion was able to fine suitable selections. The Lido buffet was well organized and gave both appealing food and prompt service. We always select a veranda stateroom. It would seem that they are mostly all the same. Serviceable, clean, and extremely well maintained. Our veranda was a bit of a disappointment due to a considerable amount of rust and corrosion. This was a first for us in that all previous ships had been impeccably maintained both in and out. This small bit of annoyance did not detract from our ability to spend many enjoyable hours on the veranda, drinks in hand, enjoying the Amazon shoreline. I commented that the Maasdam what a little like an aging star (on the outside) with a run in her stocking and a flaw in her make-up here and there. Inside, the ship was flawless, fully upholding HAL's fine tradition. We enjoyed many activities such as Bingo, Culinary Center presentations, and "Mixology" classes. The cruise staff, under the direction of Carlos, was excellent. Stephanae ran many of the events we attended and was simply a delight. Evening entertainment was very good with a wide variety of talented performers. We, and many others, were particularly impressed with Michael, the director and pianist of the ship's orchestra. He was the absolute foundation of all performances. Whatever South American itinerary you may choose, do not miss the Amazon ! The entire 8 day river sojourn was remarkable. Our 26 day cruise was relaxing, most interesting, and very enjoyable. About two-thirds of the passengers were about halfway though their cruise of 49 days when we joined the ship in Rio. This seemed to "dull" the beginning-of-cruise excitement we usually experience. In deed, most of those we encountered were somewhat subdued by their journey thus far. I plan to avoid joining subsequent cruises mid-way in the future. Overall we were very pleased with the service levels, attention to detail, and great value of this cruise.

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May 31, 2012

USA to Canada

SHIP - The Maasdam is one of the mid sized ships of HAL, which has 10 decks with two groups of four inside elevators, located near the bow and the stern of the ship. The ship has 972 cabins for 1,258 passengers and a very friendly crew of 580. CHECK-IN - Each time you board the ship during the cruise, your cabin card is scanned and your photograph is displayed to the ship's security personnel. And when returning to the ship in Canada, you needed

to carry a second form of ID with your photograph (like your driver's license). Also, every time you re-board the ship, all carry-on items (purses, bags, etc.) will be scanned. DINING ROOMS The main one is the Rotterdam (decks 7 and 8), and the others are the Pinnacle Grill (deck 8), and Lido (deck 11). In the Rotterdam dining room, at our assigned table for eight, the overall and service food was good. The Pinnacle Grill is only available by making a reservation. Service was very good and the food was better than the main dinning room. And we enjoyed the Lido for breakfast and lunch to avoid the large lines waiting to enter the Rotterdam; plus the Lido served breakfast earlier than the Rotterdam. In addition, there were three formal nights during the cruise. BARS - There is about four or more bars and we always enjoy the Crow’s Nest, especially when leaving a port before dinner, as it overlooks the ship’s bow and the direction in which the ship is sailing. CABIN - Our cabin was a verandah suite (Category B) on the Verandah Deck; deck nine, mid-ship, and had comfortable king-size bed with six pillows with room to place our suitcases under the bed. There were two nightstands, a safe, two bathrobes, one chair, one large desk with extra drawers, four closets, and a bathroom with a toilet, bath and shower, and single sink. HAL previously provided a special luggage tags containing our cabin number and our luggage arrived in our cabins before we did on the first day aboard the ship. VERANDAH - The verandah (6 x 8 feet) had one chair and one long chair for resting the entire body. Plus, the end of the cabin towards the verandah was two large glass windows and a large glass door, which was nice. IN-CABIN TV - A color TV with about 18 channels including CNN and Fox news, several movie channels, and views of the ship’s bow.

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Apr 6, 2012

So Carib

My wife and I really enjoyed our 14 day cruise. Anthony Choice was the cruise director. Anthony was approachable, friendly and professional. This was the best cruise we have ever taken. The food was incredible. Served promptly and always hot and fresh. Inside stateroom on Deck 6 (Cabin 414). Great cabin. Activities were fine. Lara was very helpful with excursions! I highly recommend Holland America Line to adults. Kids

would have more fun on other lines. If you are looking for 5 star service, Holland America is for you.

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Oct 5, 2011

Montreal to Boston

This is my fifth cruise, each with a different line. Previously I have cruised with Princess, Costa, Orient, Norwegian, and Vantage. Our party consisted of me and my wife, my son and his wife (early 30s) and their 20-month old daughter. I was pleased with both the selection and quality of the food. We split our time between the Rotterdam Dining room (elegant, but leisurely -- about 90 minutes for dinner) and the Lido cafeteria, which was

handier for our child. Veggies were usually overcooked, but the breads, salads, main dishes, appetizers and desserts were quite good. We also had good experience with room service breakfasts -- tasty and delivered hot and on time. The room was clean, well laid out, and comfortable. All the equipment was attractive and in good repair. The ship was recently rebuilt, and that showed in the physical plant. The service throughout the ship was exceptional. The crew (mostly Indonesian) were friendly, competent, and seemed genuinely interested in us. Several went out of their way to interact with our baby and provide extra services for us. My wife and I were without our luggage for the first day of the cruise (airline problems) and HAL did everything reasonable to help us -- free laundry, free formal wear rental, and complementary overnight kit. The Front Desk representative took nearly an hour of her time to make sure we had what we needed, and to get all the information I could provide on our lost bags. She promised follow-up work from the HAL shore personnel, and called several times to keep us informed of progress. We went to two of the shows, and found them quite good by cruise ship standards -- a step below top professional groups, but well scripted, well performed and enjoyable. They were geared towards the old folk crowd, but that matched the passenger demographics. We did only one excursion through the ship, to Louisbourg Fort on Cape Breton Island. I found the fort very interesting. It is a recreation of an 18th century community fort with locals in costume explaining life at that time. The docents were knowledgeable and very approachable, and I wish only that we had more time there. On the down side, our tour guide clearly had an agenda and was quite vocal about how various governments had mistreated the locals, and the bus interior was very dusty. We avoided booking excursions through HAL, and I strongly recommend that. In Quebec City, the ship docks within easy walking distance of the old city, and everything is easily reachable on foot. We took the funicular to the upper city and spend the day walking a beautiful and interesting city. We rented cars in Charlottetown and Halifax. We had reserved a car in Charlottetown but couldn't find the rental agency. However the tourist information office, a short walk from the ship, was most helpful, and provided information on 7 rental companies. We had no trouble finding a car (from Dollar, as it happened) despite the lack of reservation. All the rental companies are at the airport, about 10 minutes away, but are happy to pick you up near the ship. The company recommended several drives, and we chose to visit the north shore of the island for beaches and the Anne of Green Gables site. An excellent lunch at a little corner restaurant (the Water Prince Shop, highly recommended), right across the street from the tourist information office in Charlottetown ended a delightful day. There are also several other tour options available, some right as you disembark, and others available through the well-staffed and helpful tourist information office. Sydney, Cape Breton Island, is a small industrial town that has limited tourism options, so a ship's tour here makes sense. There were several available, and the Louisbourg Fort seemed the best for our situation. We had a reservation for our car in Halifax and were glad we did. Another couple couldn't find cars available at our counter, and I don't know if they managed to find one. The rental counters are about a 10-minute walk from the ship. We drove to Peggy's Cove and managed to get there about a half-hour ahead of several cruise ship buses. It's a lovely place, but much nicer without the crowds. It's only a 30-40 minute drive from Halifax, and I'm glad we had the flexibility to leave and drive along the shore when the tours arrived. We found some beautiful spots further down the shore that were free of crowds. Bar Harbor offers free shuttles from downtown (near the ship dock) to the national park, and the downtown is also beautiful. I recommend the walk along the shore that starts near the docks and goes past many of the beautiful homes in the area. Both embarkation in Montreal and disembarkation in Boston were handled smoothly and professionally. We were off the ship by 10:00 am, and at Logan Airport on the shuttle provided by the ship shortly thereafter.

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By BOB_CR

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Sep 6, 2009

Boston - Boston

Holland America did a good job on this cruise. The stops were excellent with two exceptions. Two of them were villages of only a few hundred people and there were no tours, cars, buses to get out to see anything. In Edenborough Scottland the boat was docked about 20 miles from town and the boat furnished a free shuttle back and forth to town. That service was appreciated and I would like to see more lines do this when they are parked a long way from

the main attractions. The staff were friendly and very helpful. They went out of their way to make sure that things were satisfactory for us passengers. We had a group of early risers that met in the crows nest to watch the sunrise each morning. When we asked for them to provide some hot coffee they did it without question and each morning there was a dispenser full of hot java. The entertainment was hit or miss. 3 of the 4 commedians were not worth watching (very poor and I am surprised they can make a living at this). I thought one of them was going to walk off stage because of the poor reaction from the audience. The stage shows were very good (singers and dancers). The rest of the performers were just OK for the most part. They did have 4 male singers that brought the house down the two nights they were on. The theater seating is very poor; small benches behind taller chairs. I can't beleve they built a theater like that (on one level with differing size seating). The chairs were very uncomfortable also. By the end of an hour performance you were happy to get up and move on. The ship is somewhat worn in places but made a plesant atmosphere. The food was overall very good. The dining room always had something that made us happy at night. If the regular menu didn't fit your needs they always had a steak, chicken or salmon that could be ordered. The Lido Buffet always had a wide variety of food both hot and cold. The fruit was exceptional (based on other cruise experience). My only complaint was the people working on the food line were sometimes understaffed and they often gave you different food than you asked for (you could not get your own food, they put it on the plates). They had two older guys working the food line that had been doing this job for too long and their desire to do a good job has long sence gone away. The stateroom was very adequate. The shower was larger than most boats have. Mostly standard stuff. My only complaint was that we had to ask the steward to change the bedding after about a week. They claimed they changed it every 3 days but put a mark on the side of the sheet and after a week the same one was there. The guys put on a good face but did the minimum they could get by with. That being said, I think the cruise line has them working more cabins now than in the past and I think the workers are finding ways to cut corners. The onboard activities were very poor! They often put on lectures or activities that everyone wanted to attend at times when it was impossible to be there. As an example, they had a great film on Icebergs but it started 30 minutes before the first seating for dinner. We only got to watch 15 minutes before we had to leave. Music around the ship was lacking. The piano player was stuck in a very small lounge and was seen only by a small number of heavy drinkers that made the nightly sing along. The stringed group was very good and had good visability. On days at sea the movie theater sat empty much of the day. It would have been nice to have a movie playing. The movies they played were usually recent productions and they had a good variety in the theater and on TV (Better than on any other cruise I have been on). Overall, I have seen much better activities on other cruises. Excursions were high priced but generally had good things to do and see. Overall a good cruise! The croud was older than most cruises we have been on. We had one 98 Year Old Lady who was traveling on her own and got around better than many in their 70's. The ports wer fantastic. The staff generally did their best to make sure we had a good time. The Captain made extra effort to get us close to things we wanted to see and do and was often available to talk with the passengers. During the voyage, when the Captain could, he slowed down and gave everyone time to enjoy sites as we passed them. My biggest complaint about the ship was the Theater which had very poor views from uncomfortable chairs. The second complaint I would offer, is about smoking. They allowed people to smoke in one section of the "Crows Nest". You all know the problem and have experienced the smoke drifting around the room for everyone to inhale. This was discusting and left the room smelling even when people were not smoking. If given the option I will always choose a cruise which makes people smoke in places that will not be shared by anyone who choses not to join in. There is no reason for everyone to have to be exposed to smoke in a very public room such as the Crows Nest!!!!!

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Jul 17, 2009

Canada

We wanted to see Montreal and Quebec so we picked Holland America because they are the only cruise line that offers this itinerary. We enjoyed Quebec and Bar Harbor the best. Sydney and Prince Edward Island didn't have much and the weather was poor for most of the trip. However we enjoyed the opportunity to get off the ship and walk around. There were good tour maps offered in the welcome areas which we greatly appreciated. This is an older ship

catering to an older crowd. There were a few kids on board but I would not recommend this ship to families. We met a lot of nice interesting people. Our preference was to start this trip from Canada to meet more Canadians but it was split about 50/50. Our only regret is that we should have done this cruise before Alaska because they just don't compare. The food was pretty good. The buffet was a little different in that the hot offerings were served to you, but there was a very short wait and the food was always fresh, with above average Mueslix (breakfast cereal). Our stateroom was very dissapointing if not disgusting. There were signs of dirt and debris everywhere. The mirrors were dirty. The bathroom floor was terribly outdated with numerous rust stains. The light switch was cracked. The drawers were uneven. The clost door had a broken hinge. The shower never worked properly. The air conditioning did not work until day three and we had to call the front desk every day to get attention. We felt the staff handled this very poorly. I could go on but let's just say there are probably better motels rated one star. There isn't much to do on the ship, but the library or explorations cafe is abundant with games and good books. I loved the headsets and onboard music selection. Unfortunately the library was bit too noisy for reading. They need to post a sign requesting people not use their cell phones or politely ask them to take it outside. Even the attendant was loud on the ships phone. Absolutely tour Quebec. Several people raved about the bike tour to the waterfall. We didn't do it because I just had surgery. Bar Harbor was our second favorite stop. Cadillac Mountain gives a good view of the area. We've been there before so we didn't do that either. We were very dissapointed with our room and the service we received from the front desk. Compared to other cruises we feel this ship is not well managed. This ship should probably be mothballed. It is older than any ship we have ever stayed on and it showed. I took a lot of pictures but this site only lets you show one.

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Jun 2, 2007

Canada/New England

This was my 8th cruise.  I took this cruise with my 80 year old father so that he could enjoy a much needed vacation.  Previously I've sailed with Princess and will note some differences for comparative purposes. Embarkation from Montreal was a breeze.  We were only about 10 minutes in line and then on the ship. First, the ship itself.  An older ship, the cruise line has kept her in good repair overall.  We had inside cabins

which were very spacious (much larger than the cabins on Princess) with loads of storage space.  Plenty of drawers, closet space, and the suitcases fit under the beds.  The shower area was adequate (larger than on any Princess ship) and flat screen TV's with DVD players were provided in each room.  However, there was no mini fridge in the cabin, so for those guests wishing to chill their white wine or soft drinks this was inconvenient. Of note, the white towels provided in the staterooms needed to be bleached back to their original bright color. I had several face cloths and towels that were stained and many of the towels looked dull and dingy in appearance.  NEVER have I seen that on any Princess ship. The cabin stewards did make some delightful animals out of towels during each evening cleaning of the cabins, the best of which was the elephant...so cute!  Princess does not provide this service sadly.  And it is such a nice added touch. The overall decor of the ship was not so pleasant in comparison to the Princess line.  Where Princess sticks to soft, muted colors in an elegant fashion and provides a sense of total relaxation, Holland goes with garish jewel tones of dark plum, deep (almost black) blues, and then throws in gold/orange.  I found a lot of the public areas gloomy with poor lighting.  The atrium area feels like you're in a cave.  The pool area is nothing short of boring with only a single statue of dolphins and two spindly palm trees decorating the deck area.  The chairs/sofas in the public areas were not that comfortable with the tub style chairs being too low-backed and hard, and the sofas being awfully deep-seated.    The dining room is two tiered with large picture windows that provided lovely views of the sunset each evening.  But the overall decor again is overbearing with dark colors and heavy ornate ornaments. Overall I'd have to say that Princess is more tastefully appointed than HAL. Enough about the decor, but it does affect your sense of relaxation. One difference I noted in the public washrooms was the use of face cloths to dry your hands.  While this is a nice touch, it seems very environmentally unfriendly to be creating so much extra laundry. Paper towels are recyclable and it was rather odd that they had signs in each stateroom bathroom asking you to be aware of wasting water and yet they use so much extra water in washing these face cloths?. Now the food.  Overall, the food was great.  The Lido buffet is not self serve, except for the salad area at lunch time and the desserts.  There are various stations for all meals, with Asian foods, pasta, made-to-order sandwiches (although limited as to types available), and meat vegetable hot meals.  For breakfast, eggs can be ordered (fried or omelet), but all other foods are pre-prepared.  The staff serves all the food (which is good from an infection control perspective), but does create almost a cafeteria type lineup for the breakfasts (although you can go to the main dining room and order a breakfast or call room service for an in-cabin meal free-of-charge if you wish).  The service is quick however, with table side service for tea/coffee for those who don't want to get their own at those stations. They close for only an hour between breakfast/lunch and lunch/dinner and then close completely by around 1am until the morning. The pool area has a grill for burgers & dogs, and also has a self serve area for tacos and tortillas for the better part of the day. The dining room food was excellent at first, but started to slide downhill towards the end of the 7 day cruise.  Some of the meat in the entrees was tough, and the starters became less tasty.  One evening was the Chef's dinner, and overall it was awful.  Quite a surprise because up until then the food had been wonderful.  Surprisingly, they only offer 3 course meals for dinner, with starter, entree, and dessert.  Most other lines offer appetizer, soup or salad, entree and dessert.  While you could order two starters, this wasn't advertised, so for first time cruisers, they probably were unaware this option existed and the waiters did not encourage it. Service was slow in the dining room, with almost 2 hours for each meal.  This interfered with the ability to attend some of the shows/events taking place in the evening. A BBQ was provided on the lido deck at 4:30 pm one day...odd time considering first seating for dinner was at 6 pm.  And there was a food extravaganza at 10:30 pm one evening with mostly desserts.  Holland clearly adheres to the old time cruise mentality that cruising is all about the food.  They need to rethink this because people don't eat as much as they used to in the early days of cruising and even most of the elderly folks on board did not partake in these extra eating opportunities. One annoying thing was that the dining room staff had already entertained us at the Chef's dinner, but on the last night started with getting everyone to cheer loudly about how they had enjoyed their cruise, the food, and then the service provided by the dining staff. This was clearly a ploy to not-so-subtly hint for extra tips in addition to the $10 per person per day that was tacked onto your onboard account. Activities on board are fairly good, especially on the at-sea days.  Trivia games, cooking lessons in their new culinary arts centre, a movie, Scattegories game, towel folding demos, bingo, etc.  I was not pleased with the bingo games.  On Princess, you pay $10 for single cards and $20 for triple cards and there are always 5 games at each session.  There are also standard prizes with $50-125 dollar prizes for the first 4 games, and either the jackpot (which builds if not won) or $150 for the 5th game.  HAL only provides 4 games at each session for the same price, and at two of the session offered only a single game for that price.  The prizes for the 4 game sessions were totally dependant upon the number of participants, and the single games were for a free cruise, and a jackpot of $1500 respectively.  Considering the average age of the passengers was well over 65, it was surprising that not that many people participated in bingo.  But then again, a lot were repeat HAL cruisers and maybe they already knew that the prizes were not as good as in days gone by.  I felt we were cheated for our money, especially on those two special games.  The free cruise I could understand, but why did they "cheap out" on the jackpot game? The casino ran hot and cold in terms of your chances of winning, but there were lots of slot machines considering the overall size of the ship, with plenty of penny and nickel slots available. Shops on board were pretty much typical of any cruise line, although the clothing selections were clearly geared to an elderly clientele.  They do have a wonderful selection of costume jewelry sets (necklace and earrings) for $10 each as well as more dressy sets for reasonable prices. Now the ports.  Quebec City is a wonderful taste of Europe and has a special ambiance not found anywhere else in Canada.  Cobblestone streets with well preserved stone buildings, along with excellent street performers and artistry painted on the sides of buildings make this a delightful cruise port stop.  We didn't take an organized tour, but just explored on our own.  It is hilly and very windy in spots, but overall an easy city to explore on your own.  Contrary to some opinions, the merchants and city folks quickly switch to English (you may hear that they will only speak French....not true!!!)  The sidewalk cafes provide a sense of being in France, with wonderful restaurants and shops all close to the cruise port. We were very, very disappointed that we did not stop at Charlottetown PEI.  This cruise was supposed to dock at the pier, but they were renovating/repairing the pier and thus we were to tender ashore starting at 11:30 am.  But at 10 am the captain announced that the swells were too high and the winds too strong to allow for safe tendering.  He said they had been monitoring the situation for a couple of hours and didn't expect things to improve, so we sailed around the island for the next two hours.  However, the sea was fairly calm with NO whitecaps at all, and the winds were not that bad.  I've seen far worse conditions at Grand Cayman in the Caribbean when tendering was allowed.  It was very apparent that the conditions had improved greatly within 30 minutes of the announcement, but no attempt was made to return to the tendering area to reassess the situation.  They continued to claim 7 foot waves on the captains log channel of the stateroom TV's and yet we continued to see no white caps.  Sydney was the next stop and we had arranged through a private tour company to take a mini-Cabot trail tour for 3 hours in the morning.  The guide was great, typical salt-of-the-earth Cape Bretoner, who was very knowledgeable about the history of the area and provided a wonderful running commentary.  Having previously driven the entire Cabot Trail (which take over 8 hours), this admittedly is not the most spectacular portion of the trail, but nevertheless quite scenic. In the afternoon, we went to the fiddle playing excursion offered exclusively to HAL passengers right inside the cruise terminal.  This is a wonderful time, with the performers being so friendly and talented.  It provided a true taste of Cape Breton. Halifax was the next stop and again we didn't take a ship's tour.  Right outside the terminal there are double- decker buses available for a Hop On, Hop Off tour.  They provide a guided tour for 1 1/2 hours through the city, with at least 12 stops available along the way.  You can take the whole tour, decide which stops interest you the most, and then get on and off at the various sites.  The buses come every 30 minutes, providing plenty of time at each of the stops. We did the entire tour, went back on the ship for lunch, and returned to the bus to go to some of the stops. For $49 each, it is a far better bargain than any excursion offered by the ship for exploring the city. The ship also offers excursions to the infamous Peggy's Cove, which for those who haven't been before is also a wonderful site to see.  Next was Bar Harbor Maine.  A true taste of quintessential Maine, this would be a wonderful place in the autumn with the blazing colors of the fall season.  We took the Lobster Bake/Acadia National Park tour with the ship and it was wonderful.  They give you lunch with mussels (as many as you can eat...my dad had 3 bowls!!), fresh steamed lobster (or a huge New York strip steak for non-fish eaters), corn-on-the-cob, coleslaw, bread, potato, and home made blueberry cake.  Yummy!! Then we boarded the bus again for a great tour through Acadia Nat. Park and went up to the summit of Cadillac Mountain which provided some spectacular views.  The guide provided a very knowledgeable commentary along the way, with great stories about the history of the area and wonderful photo ops.  A highly recommended tour. We took a city tour in Boston due to a later flight to return home.  Wish we'd had more time there, it is a marvelous city and the architecture is spectacular with so much historical background.  Unfortunately the weather was not so good, cold and a bit wet, but a good tour overall.  They do drop you at the airport before 12 noon, so if you are choosing a return flight time, you are safe to book as early as 1:30 pm.  Would I return to HAL again??  Probably not.  My husband and I have always been happy with Princess, but would like to explore other lines.  However, with HAL prices often being so much higher than other lines, especially for non-Caribbean itineraries, I feel that you get more "bang for your bucks" from Princess.  Also, they do tend to have a very elderly cruise clientele, and we're not quite there yet!!  And again, the decor of the ships in the Princess fleet is more appealing than HAL.  I truly feel that decor affects your overall enjoyment, which is the main reason we will NEVER go with Carnival cruises (pink and orange together??? YUCK!!!) Would I recommend this itinerary?  Yes, it does provide a taste of Eastern Canada and New England and is a delightfully relaxing atmosphere both on and off the ship.  I am not convinced that cruising is the way to see the world because of the limited time at the ports, and do feel that cruising is more about vacationing than traveling.  But for those who want the convenience of only unpacking once, having a "home-base" to return to each day, and still want to sightsee, this itinerary is wonderful.            

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Nov 30, 2006

Southern Caribbean

I must start out stating that every member of the crew onboard was most gracious and helpful. The cabin steward took care of the room perfectly, and the dining room stewards, wine stewards and bus boys were professional and always remembered your favorite beverage or wine. Dining at the Pinnacle Grill was a wonderful experience, with outstanding food, prepared to order, and the presentation was excellent. As soon as everyone was onboard,

everyone was briefed about the GI illness from the prior cruise, and the staff was continuously cleaning and disinfecting all day, and after the 3rd day, the restrictions of salt and pepper shakers, etc, were lifted with no problems the remainder of the cruise. One must remember that the Maasdam is a teenager, being 17 years old, and in ship years this is not a new vessel. It is not, as some have said, old and decaying. If you want glitz and glam, opt out for a cruise on a newer boat, with a much younger crowd. There are of course, some drawbacks and negative issues with the cruise. The stateroom, especially while in port, was very warm and it took a few calls to get a portable fan delivered. The Lido pool area, when the retractable roof was closed, was at times extremely hot, which detracted from the Chocolate Extravaganza. The ice carvings and the chocolate were melting after a very short time. Smoke from cigarettes was very evident in the Piano Bar and the casino, which is no different that the same type of establishments ashore. For the one reviewer that stated she had to walk through the casino to get to the Rotterdam Dining Room, this is not exactly true. There is a passageway the goes around the casino on the opposite side of the ship past the Pinnacle Grill and a delightful lounge area with nightly classical music. The only stop along the cruise that I did not care for was Dominica. This is a very poor island, with a very run-down capital city and few shops. A great place for eco-tourism, however on a ship with a majority of the passengers well over 50, not a great choice. Overall, a very enjoyable cruise, with 4 days at sea to relax. I may not choose the same cruise or vessel for my next cruise; however Holland America will remain at the top of my list for now.            

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Nov 19, 2006

Southern Caribbean

The last two reviews I read were pretty straight on about the items on this ship. One thing I'd like to add is the recommended parking lot (Lot 39)for cruisers. Please note: this lot is next to the "projects" and is NOT SAFE! We came back to find out vehicle's window broken out and DVD player and other items stolen. The parking lot assumes no liability even though you pay $110 to park. I found this terrible. I didn't realize it was next

to such a terrible area or I would have parked in a parking garage down town. I would have hoped the port was completed, but it wasn't. We did get on fairly quickly, but when leaving it took forever! The ship is old and not as glamorous as other ships we've been on. There were odd smells in different places on the ship. This is typically a more mature traveler on this boat. This slower type of cruise was ok with us since we wanted rest. Our cabin stewed was excellent! The servers were excellent as well! The culinary shows were nice and I enjoyed those. The shows were not so good however. I was disappointed and thought my local high school had the same level productions. The hot tubs are way too hot - sounds funny but true. The pools are nice and having the cover over the pool was nice for rainy days. The food on the Lido deck was ok, but nothing like other ships. The food at the pool was horrible. Rotterdam dining was nice and we enjoyed that every night. We did try Pinnacle grill and didn't like that at all - waste of money. It is dark, not well decorated and the phone rang constantly interrupting conversation at your table. It took over 3 hours for dinner and that is just too long. It was 1 hour before getting even an appetizer! Self Laundry was a nice touch. Flat panel TV's were nice, but hard to use remote while in bed since the signal wouldn't reach the TV. You had to put your hand way up high to get the signal to change the channel. From one bed the view is blocked. I would recommend they angle the TV for better viewing. Closets are nice with ability to move shelving to suit your needs. Shops were not so great - dark run down places in the $10 area, very crowded in other shops. Any personal items are very expensive so bring them with you. No discounts on alcohol like other ships. I didn't like all the smoke. You had to walk through the casino to get to the dining room and it was always smoky. Rooms and hallways were smoky. On BBQ night they handed out drinks freely and then came back to ask for a room number. We told the lady we didn't order these drinks and the answer was "what is your room number" you must pay. We were so upset about this. 2 drinks turned out to be $30 and when we complained about this deceiving tactic on the hostess' part - they didn't care and wouldn't do anything about this. This bothered me greatly. I don't even drink and saved only the cup which I didn't even care for since it was too tall to fit in the dishwasher. Our boat was hit with a GI bug and last count 27 rooms were infected and contained to the rooms. They changed everything where you couldn't serve yourself anything including tea or water in the dining rooms - I understand these changes but it was a terrible inconvenience and slowed things down a lot. You are only able to get water/tea/coffee in the lido restaurant in tiny tiny glasses. Other boats I've been on you had plenty of locations for drinks - this needs improvement. I have an 8 year old daughter - she enjoyed the kids club, but it was so much smaller than other boats. I understood the club was newly renovated so I thought it would be much nicer, but I was wrong. The hours were slim as well - not really a great place for kids. Again - I'd stick with other boats for a much better children's program. They did the best with what they had to work with though - I'll give them that. Ok here is the worst part: TIPS. I really do not like how they make them share tips. You are charged $10 per person per day so for us it was $30 per day x 11 days. I requested that I modify my daughters tips (only hers) since she didn't use many services and I wanted to make sure the kids club was tipped instead. It's an act of congress to do this. If tipping is a courtesy to have on your bill, then you shouldn't have to go through so much headache to modify it as you see fit. Then if you tip anyone directly they must share this tip in a pool that is shared with everyone. What is the motivation for a single person to offer good service this way?? I didn't like how they handled this request at all - I had to fill out a form and wait for management approval. What - you must be kidding! I can have fun anywhere and my family did, but I probably wouldn't go with this ship again. I enjoyed the southern Caribbean ports of call and would visit them again, but with a different boat. I hope this was helpful and wish you fun on your cruise!          

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Oct 28, 2006

Southern Caribbean

This was our fourth cruise from Norfolk on the Maasdam. I reviewed the interiors of this ship on the first Norfolk cruise, and will only touch upon several "new" interior findings. Our son drove us to the ship. I was amazed that the $38million cruise terminal is still under construction in Norfolk, and a long way from completion. Passengers still board through the old "tenting". It is also amazing that Carnival, parent of Holland America

since 1989, is taking the Maasdam from this city. Rumors on board were that HAL will bring another ship in, one is due in 2007, or, the Maasdam will return. We heard the Zuiderdam was coming. We'll see......... We had express boarding, which meant nothing at check in. We were shown to our stateroom by a crew member. I noticed that there are now stateroom number/slot holders at each stateroom. The photo ID is now used as your cabin entry key, retiring the old plastic key system of the past. As usual, the ship gleamed. Our dining assignment was not confirmed before we left home. We sought out the Maitre D' hotel, and he took our request, which was honored on the fourth night of the cruise. Sure, it was a problem, and, it was taken care of with aplomb. A new TV, a flat screen and a DVD player($3.00 to borrow a DVD) were new additions to our stateroom. Too bad they still do not have a fridge!. Our queen bed was not ready, but was reconfigured the next day. The bed is wonderful, a cocoon of comfort. The bath was spotless, the caulking was new and pure white, and, no cracked tiles. Upgraded bath items are now standard. We went up to the buffet at the Lido for lunch prior to boat drill. I am squeezing all of the Lido findings in here. It was disappointing in many ways. One example: fajitas - no salsa, no Pico de Gallo, no tortillas, to tacos, nor anything else that seemed Mex-TexMex. Often items at breakfast and lunch were not replaced, you had to make someone get it from the other side of the Lido buffet. On my previous Maasdam cruises a cook sautéed garlic, tomatoes and the like, for fresh pasta sauces, this time, no. The same went for the Asian wok section. The smoked salmon was of a "lesser" quality than in the past, and the platter small, hard to find, the display was tacky. Half Moon Cay day, the BBQ was held on board, rather than ashore. After checking that out, we headed for lunch in the Rotterdam Dining Room. We are not fast food people, never eaten at a buffet joint, so, we gladly stuck with the Rotterdam Dining Room. Also, three hallmarks of HAL are still provided at the Lido: complimentary ice cream, fab desserts full of calories or sugar free, and fresh squeezed orange juice. And, the stewards there are more than eager to secure you a table and carry your tray. We didn't get that on the QM2! Outside the Lido, at the Lido pool, the pizza was disgusting, and the taco bar a mess, and the burgers thin pathetic frozen little things. There are new things to enjoy on the ship, and they certainly offset what we found at the Lido. The Crows Nest has been totally rebuilt. It is much larger, and very clubbish, with seating in quiet areas, lowly lit, or bright and lively areas. The bar is a narrow U shape, white marble with alum/stainless touches, and silver velvet high backed bar stools. The dance floor is very large. Colors are magenta, pea green, and eggplant velvets on the sofas and banquettes. Leather recliners are provided near the floor to ceiling windows, that offer a sadly lesser view out to sea. The DJ has a more important area, too bad the selections played were the same old golden oldies. There was a fairly "fun" Halloween party held in the Crows Nest. Here are some new pricing for things on the ship, much to our surprise. We'll spend over $100.00 for ship-board pictures, BUT new pricing? $20.95 per for pics taken IN/ON the ship. $10.95 for ones taken on the pier in port. Captains Night - there were three photo set ups BEFORE you got to the captain. No "sale" on liquor bought on board the last day, which they should have let you know about in advance. And, no more complimentary tote bag. What is still a good deal? $12.00 for a bag of laundry, which you give to your cabin steward. Drinks fairly well priced, and packing a good "punch". They make a fab Mojito on the Maasdam! The Rotterdam Dining Room has been refreshed, and new, more comfortable chairs have been added. The menus for breakfast were wonderful, the items at the correct serving temperature. Real maple syrup is provided here, it is not offered at the lido. Real fresh squeezed orange juice has to be asked for, or, you get frozen. A new Rosenthal china pattern has also been introduced here, navy blue scrolls with gold, and the HAL crest in gold. Exquisite. We lacked for nothing here for lunch. Burgers were really decent, as were the pastas and other entrees. We often were seated with our evening wait stewards, eager to serve us. If not, if they saw us at another table, they came by to say hello and introduced us the the staff waiting to serve us, and treated us with honor. Nice. Dinner was another great and memorable affair, which I will keep short in this review. Escargots, pates, shellfish, duck, venison, excellent meats, wonderful salads, and highlights from Chef Rudi Sodamin. Gone is Dutch Night, and French Night. In their place are favorites from these themes, available during the cruise. No longer is the room transformed into a sea of white linen with the chairs covered in white, on Captains or Farewell nights. Why? I did not miss it, I did not ask. Live music is still played from the upper level of this grand dining venue. Our favorite waiter in the Pinnacle has gone over to the Noordam. We were remembered from the past cruises, and had a lovely table for two. The menu has been expanded, and the food, prep and presentation was exceptional. Another new space is the Explorations Cafe. It is like a Starbucks, wherein one buys fancy or plain coffees and pastries, at Starbucks prices. Price range $1.20 - $2.25, priced by our cruises prices. I for one will not pay for coffee on any ship. Espresso and Cappuccino are complimentary at dinner. The rest of this area, carved out anew, is a library, game area and quiet room, all offering splendid ocean views. The ceiling is coffered, the seating leather recliners, the computer area in satellite "pods" , and the place look as though it has always been there. A great job. The Green House Spa is mostly new, and while it seems to be chic, for all intents an purposes, it was not the greatest renovation/rehab on this ship. There is no hydro therapy pool for one thing. To go from point A to C there is back tracking, no easy way to go from the changing areas to the waiting area, a tiny changing spot, with people walking in while you change, to get their tour of the spa. The new treatment rooms are nice, the old ones, tired and shabby. The massages, we each had three, were excellent, and then a fourth, on the last day, buy one get one free! The entertainment on the cruise ran from excellent, to good to ugh. Excellent were Barnaby, we've seen him on several cruises before, Penny Matheson, a soprano, the HAL-Cats, the ships orchestra, and the Black Pearl Strings. Good were the venerable D'Sophisticats, playing pool side, in the Crows Nest, and pre-dinner in the Ocean Bar. Incidentally, the Ocean Bar has a new, larger dance floor. Now, for the ships cast - all I will say is, tiring. I can't can kids that pour their hearts out doing two shows a night. BUT the canned music, torn costumes and such, well.... We attended the Mariners Party, of which 75% of the passengers were attending. We stood for our level of days, applauded a 101 year old man who received his medallion for over 500 days, 40 people with 100 or more days, and four with over 300 days with HAL ships. I wish to give a mention for having sailed with him on other ships, Captain Henk Draper. He is young and shows a great deal of respect to all on his ship. One very novel night during this cruise, the time it had been done on the Maasdam, was "Master Chefs Dinner", which showcases Rudi Sodamins artistry as a chef. We've known him for years, having enjoyed his talents on the Saga fjord and Vista fjord, during the Cunard/NAC days, as well as on the QE2. Here is how the evening went: First, you wear provided tall paper chef hats, if you wish. Then a parade of waiters promenade through out the room with baskets of fresh linen napkins, and had you yours as they pas. Then a salad parade, with tomatoes, cucumbers and juggled plates, a sort of salad baked Alaska thing (it is not your actual salad, nor your plate), with a finale of all ships personnel in white hats and chefs aprons dancing around the entire dining room. Whew! The entire production was akin to toga night on Costa, a Greek Bachanal and the entrance to Rome from Aida. Impressive and fun. The food by the way, was wonderful and imaginatively plated up. Speaking of food, or dinners were complimented each evening with a wonderful wine steward, Rebecca. She made sure we were attended to, and my Manhattan was waiting each night for me. Our wait staff was also superb. Not just superb, excellent. St. Thomas was its teeming lively self. Norwegian Jewel was there. We had a nice lunch at Cuzzins on back Street. Like most of the Caribbean, service was slow here, the food worth every minute, the drinks, real strong and tropical. Go early, before 1pm for a seat. We did, again, a lot of Christmas shopping here. We were at Crown Bay, being enlarged for the QM2, and other ships at Havensight were from RCCL, Princess and HAL. We love Dominica, and we were joined there by Caribbean Princess. We shopped the town, not much to buy. This is an island to take a tour. We'd done it before, and let this be a Spa day. Barbados, we have always enjoyed, but, most of the resorts are being turned into condos, and our driver told us nobody lets cruise shippers come use the beach at the hotels, so, we went to Blue Monkey Beach, pretty, not great. We docked with Norwegian Jewel, a Microsoft yacht, Octopus, and the handsome P&O Cruises ms Arcadia. In St. Kitts we opted for our place, which will remain anonymous. It is pure unspoiled Caribbean heaven, and waiting for our return in the future. You may take a ferry to Nevis from the dock if you want a peaceful beach. We stayed on board at Half Moon Cay, and San Juan. Here are some areas that irritate, pardon the pun. Smoke. Our stateroom reeked of it from passengers smoking on either side of us. The Piano Bar, a room I love, was too filled with smoke to be of any use to me. The smoke from the casino permeates the entire shopping area. This must be addressed. Overall, this was a great cruise, on a favorite treasure, the Maasdam. We love the ship, and heard no complaints. Will we sail her again - without a doubt yes. Will we sail other HAL ships - we are booked on the Westerdam for next June. Do we sail other ships and cruise lines? We are booked on the Regatta for March, the Amadeus River Cruises Line November, and the Regatta again in 2008.          

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Oct 28, 2006

Southern Caribbean

Between October 28 and November 3, 2006 my wife and cruised out of Norfolk on Holland Americas “Maasdam” This was our first cruise on Holland and on the Maasdam. We chose the ship because it was very near to our home and travel distance was 3 ½ hours to the port vs. 13 to Bayonne or Fort Lauderdale or even Tampa. The Maasdam is an old ship constructed in 1993 and apparently never renovated. Major systems such as air conditioning,

plumbing, toilets, whirl pools and pools, electrical systems, stabilizers and even engines appear to have suffered profound neglect. Facilities for children appear very spartan, although some limited activities are done poolside. Room amenities such as an umbrella or shopping tote do not exist. The cooking staff and management are arrogant and non-responsive to the many problems that exist. No real flexibility exists in dining menus, the food is just fair, the baked goods are dry and tasteless and their “Pinnacle Grill” has poor fare, is no value, a waste of time and certainly money. Honestly the “Golden Corral” family restaurant has better overall food, selections and buffet. Daily activities and music are extremely limited. Evening entertainment ranges from good to hokey. The nightclubs are out of touch with the clientele whose average age is about 68+. That also is the general age of all the ship’s cruising populous. The DJ is not sensitive to this fact and plays “the hustle and 80s and 90s rock consistently. In the Crows Nest Bar, it seems that 5 or 6 of the activities staff are forever present and their only function appears to be drinking, flirting and dancing among themselves. This includes the DJ. These activities do not look professional and perceptions are realities. This ship and line seems to be on a cost cutting binge. For example smoking is allowed aboard the ship, but it is impossible to find a match. The staff and bartenders say “It’s because of 9/11!”, but they DO sell $3.00 propane lighters and propane lighters can also be more problematic. Perhaps not giving out matches cuts costs. The Holland standardized tipping policy is hideous. Many travelers refuse to abide by it and opt out. Deserving individuals given tips are forced to forfeit them to the general “pool” under threat of firing. A disgusting policy! Dining The Lido Café is located on the 11th floor adjacent to the “covered” pool. This is the buffet restaurant. It is organized somewhat oddly. The serving lines, starboard and port are each arranged in sections (i.e. breads, starters, Asian, Italian, entrees, sandwiches and finally soups and salads.) This is an indication of the similar fare served each day. The arrangement is not at all conducive to speedy service. As people wait for certain items and the server is busy somewhere else (this is the rule rather than the exception), the lines back up and the wait time to be served increases proportionately. This situation is painfully evident during the breakfast hours. At breakfast a section is setup that just does fried and boiled eggs, another just pancakes and French toast, another just omelets. This poises real logistic problems for passengers in the line trying to get toast, scrambled eggs, bacon or sausages and then move on and out, but cannot, since the line is constantly backed up with people wanting eggs done their way. Passengers do not move past the holdups for fear of “skipping in line”. Perhaps a REAL egg station would correct the traffic jams. Incidentally on most days, at 9:20AM or so, the servers run out of French toast, scrambled eggs, bacon and turkey sausage. Then the lines really back up until more is made. The server staff behind the buffet is always one short and that creates the problem that you just can’t get served. So you wait and wait. If you desire waffles or baked goods, there is a separate line that also serves iced cream. The waffles are tasteless, often served broken, there are no fresh or frozen berries only terribly sweet jams (two types). The pastries are terrible. They are dry! When I asked why, I was told it was because of the high humidity, a ludicrous excuse. Another person said it was because much of the baked goods were made off the ship. Breads and rolls were just as bad. Overall a very unsatisfying, confusing and frustrating way to start the day. The 11th floor pool outside the Lido Café is the “indoor” pool and two overheated whirlpools, one of which only partially worked. There are lounge chairs adjacent to the pool and sitting areas with small table along the outside walls. A selling point for this pool is that it has a retractable dome cover, 98% of the time the “cover” was open and because of that and a lack of cross ventilation, and non-opening windows, this area becomes unbearably hot. The pool and whirl pools have no shade whatsoever. If you are out in the open, you will literally fry! Health conscious fare is not a priority with Holland. People who may be “Health Conscious” will have no real alternative aboard the Maasdam. Celebrity provides excellent alternate healthy choices but Holland does not. Fitness and Recreation. A Spa is located on the 11th floor and it appears nice. The exercise areas, adjacent to the Spa are fairly well equipped but the weights on the equipment are not marked and the “trainers” don’t know if it is pounds or kilograms and neither did I. There is a jogging short track around the upper lever and on the 6th level is a larger walking track completely around the ship. Four times around equals a mile. There is a fairly well stocked library that contains news papers, books, for rent DVD movies and a large section to communicate via the Internet. Incidentally we only had one shrimp cocktail on the 11 days of menus. I personally like shrimp cocktails and made a special request, which could not be honored until the next day. After it was served I requested one for the following day but was told that the chef said that he did not have any more full sized shrimp on board. I was upset, as were may other passengers making similar requests. Other, better supplied, cruise lines do allow special requests. . The Pinnacle Grill is supposedly the “high class” eatery. They charge $30.00 per person to dine there. The definition of “Pinnacle” is a lofty peak perhaps the top and that is how it is promoted. My wife and I decided to give it a try. It was our 4th day out. The restaurant is attractive but not overly done and basically empty. It is hard to believe that one must setup reservation days in advance. We ordered the "Monk Fish". What was served was a thin, slightly burnt. piece of halibut. Monk fish are “skinned, boneless and shaped like a small beef or pork loin. We again protested since we eat Monk fish often and this WAS NOT Monk fish. We were repeatedly “assured” it was. Monk fish is sometimes called “poor mans lobster” because when broiled has the firm texture of a lobster. This “fish” flaked and had a tail. My wife was insulted by this deception. On the desert menu was a glorious chocolate desert called a “Warm Grand Marnier Chocolate Volcano Cake”. We each ordered that. When it arrived, it was burnt, bitter and inedible. We left it and on our way out, I added my name to the guest list with this comment… “Horrific”, but they probably changed that to “Terrific”. This was one of our absolute worse dining experiences. A solution for Holland may be to replace the chef. If you have $60.00 throw away, toss it over board or give the “Pinnacle Grill” a try. Accommodations on the Maasdam appear fairly nice but believe me, looks are very deceiving. The service from my cabin steward, Wayan, was outstanding. I could not have asked for better service. I’m sure that true with most all cabin stewards. They were just fabulous! The absolute biggest complaint I heard about accommodations was that a very large number of guests had NO air conditioning throughout the cruise Some were given table fans, some nothing and some even got $150.00 in cash credit. People were moving luggage from room to room almost every day. This was by far the number 1 complaint. This was a major problem throughout the ship. The piano bar, which was the best entertainment on board, was an oven. The entertainer Barry Blyth, who was spectacular, had his own personal fan. People would came in sit a moment and have to leave because of the heat. The second biggest complaint was the sanitation system. Sinks and tubs that mysteriously and ominously gurgle and toilets that DO NOT work nor consistently flush. I spoke with disgruntled passengers that said their toilet facilities did not work for 6 days or more and no one on board would fix them! Usually, the toilet in my room would not flush until after 9:00 AM and then it took 10 or 12 pushes on the flush button. A terrible combination of situations. The third largest complaint was the roughness of our cruise. We really had no rough weather and the published “Cruise Log” will verify this, yet this ship rocked like no other I had ever been on. I later learned that the stabilizers were not “entirely” working and neither were the engines. The captain, in order not to “overtax the engines, ordered the stabilizers shut down. In 20 cruises made on Celebrity and Royal Caribbean this was the most rocky. The crew, too, was often seasick. The next group of passengers have my sincere sympathies since repairs do not seem to be forthcoming. Adding insult to injury, on the last night of this cruise, at 1:30AM, the ship lost ALL electric power for over 20 minutes and actual propulsion for well over an hour. There absolutely no lights on the ship on deck or below deck. It was pitch black. The baggage handlers were trying to load baggage for disembarkation and when those lights went out people and baggage and handlers came tumbling down those stairways. We were about 120 miles from shore and shore lights could be seen but the ship was dead in the water and it began to significantly list. At about 2:40AM the engines started and thankfully we were under way. After disembarking and on the shuttle back to the parking areas, people on the shuttle said that the list had been so great that the water in the Lido decks large pool poured out and down the stairs to several lower levels. Again my sincerest sympathies to the next group of passengers. Help IS NOT on the way! Entertainment in the “Rembrant” lounge is comprised of singers and dancers, comedians, a juggler, a woman ventriloquist and a musical performed by the Indonesian or Philippine crew staff. The production numbers are good especially “Romance on Broadway”, but the ship rocked so much that we feared someone on stage would be hurt. The native music and dance performance by the Indonesian or Philippine labor was interesting. The rest was rather hokey. There is a Casino offering “Black Jack”, Roulette”, “Craps” and a large number of slot machines vary from $.05 to $1.00 contributions. Shopping on board is available although because the ship is smaller in size, the number and size of shops is limited. They do run contests and drawings just about daily but you must be present to win. On board there is a movie theatre that actually shows recent movies. We thought that a movie could not be screwed up to badly but we were wrong. We were viewing the Da Vinci Code, but half way through it the captain broke in, the sound turned off so we could only here him. He proceeded to tell us weather conditions, location etc. Many people, jeering and disgruntled, left in protest and went to Customer Relations. Then, just as the captain shut up, the entertainment director cut in to read us the events for the day. 15 minutes later the movie resumed. Then it stopped entirely, was rolled far back and restarted. 20 minutes later it was stopped again to very large and vocal protests and then started again. Someone should have the awareness to coordinate captain interruptions and stop and start movies in a coordinated fashion.. The Piano Bar, although often an oven, is one of the best bits of entertainment on board. The pianist, Barry Blyth, is spectacular. He sings well, gains audience participation via sing-a-longs and plays very well. People who came and survived the heat loved him. The Crows Nest Bar located on the 12th Floor is the major dance area. The room is surrounded by large windows and is a very nice for viewing arriving or departing ports. The Crows Nest Bar features a DJ and recorded music and occasionally, early evening, there is also a pianist who is fairly good. The wait staff in the Crows Nest was extraordinary, In particular a waitress named “Daye” who served us, was extremely nice, super accommodating and just fabulous. Congratulations to “Daye” for a job well done! The Holland Tipping Policy. The Holland standardized tipping policy states that a gratuity of $10.00 per day per guest will automatically be added to your shipboard account. They assure everyone that all gratuities will go to the staff and absolutely none goes to Holland. It is said that $3.50 goes to the cabin boy, $3.50 to your waiter and the remaining $3.00 will be distributed among the cooks, bakers, servers, assistant waiter, cleaning personnel and whomever else I‘ve missed. If you want to then give a larger tip to whomever, you can. It is further stated that if, at the end of your cruise you, you want to modify this deduction you can at the Customer Relations Office. Many people do this. They want to tip those who served them best. They do not want their tips “pooled” and “distributed”. Therefore, at the end of the cruise many passengers line up to fill out forms to cancel their automatic gratuity deduction. They then personally give tips to the people who serviced them best. There is a real problem in this practice. If you cancel your auto gratuity deduction fully, any tips you give personally may more than likely end up in the “pool” anyway. Why you ask? Because they will run a report showing all those that cancelled their automatic deduction FULLY. Management will then use this list and query the people who personally served you and, with threats of firing, require any tips you gave that person to turn it into the “pool”. A solution may be to reduce the automatic gratuity deduction to $1.00 a day per guest. Then when they run their report, your name will not be on it and, in theory, you may reward fully those you believe are most deserving.        

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Jun 21, 2006

Montreal/Boston

We arrived in Montreal three days early to sightsee. Upon arrival, we were greeted at the airport and taken to the Four Points Sheridan Hotel (10 minutes from the airport). We had been confirmed at the Delta Centreville which is downtown Montreal. We were told that the hotel backed out because of the Grand Prix. We were a $30.00 cab ride to and from downtown. We also paid for a transfer from the airport to the hotel, and the airport hotel

offered shuttle service for free. We were very unhappy with the accommodations and Holland America kept saying that it wasn't their fault. We got very tired of hearing that statement. Also, the day before we left for Montreal, we were informed that our dining time had been changed. We were confirmed for early seating and were changed to 8:45. Holland America told us that it was a computer glitch. After many calls to Holland America offices, and an e-mail to the main headquarters, we were fortunate to be changed back to early seating. It was such a hassle that we had to deal with this. On the day of the cruise, we were informed that the bus would not be leaving until 1:00 and we had to take a city tour first. We were not interested in this, however we had no choice but to take it. We ended up not getting to the ship until about 4:00. We were not able to enjoy ourselves due to the late arrival. Again, we were told that it was not Holland America's fault. Our waiter was very nice, however our service was not good. Many times courses were forgotten and our meals were not served together. We had to wait for wine service, sometimes up to thirty to forty minutes. The dining room seemed to be understaffed. Dishes were not picked up on the Lido deck and again it was very difficult to get service from the bar. We had a very nice cabin and wonderful cabin steward. That was the best part of our cruise. The seating in the Rembrandt Lounge was very poor. Unless you were in the front row, it was very difficult to see the shows. The quality of the shows did not match up to other cruises that we have taken. It was not a good experience. I would not ever cruise with Holland America again and certainly would not recommend them to anyone.      

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May 20, 2006

Montreal/Boston

Pros: Ports and Staff Cons: Slow debarkation, probably due to Port of Montreal staffing Maasdam by Rob Holloway Eastern Canada May 20, 2006 Cabin Category: Balcony Cabin Number: 165. Cruise length, 7 nights. Our vacation was to spend a week with our daughter who works in Boston, then take the seven (7) night MS Maasdam cruise from Boston to Montreal and visit our other daughter in Montreal, and her children. We wanted to take a cruise

with less people (1,266) instead of the 2,600 type ship. It worked out well as we celebrated a birthday in Boston, then our grandson's in Montreal. We flew from Victoria BC (Vancouver Island) Canada to Ottawa then to Boston for a week prior. We stayed at Hotel 140 for $149 US a night. Hotel 140 is located just off Cobley Square and is a renovated YWCA. Very clean room , small but the price and location in heart of Boston at graduation time cannot be beat. Logan airport is busy and old but taxi service was fine and rate was about $25 which includes the tunnel and AP fee. Taxi to the pier itself in the south end was about $15 including tip. Porters took our bags about 11:30am,  swift check-in after we were assigned number 3 group. We were onboard around by noon with rooms available by 1pm. They take you to Lido deck to wait and a buffet is available. One tender to Bar Harbor, pier stops each day (Halifax, Sydney, Charlottetown, sea day to Saguenay Fjord , Quebec, Montreal). All our tour tickets were pre-booked and pre-paid. The tickets were in our cabin when we arrived. Holland America does a very good job in selection and tour operations. Our dining room service was excellent, table 64 (1st seating). The table was set for 10 and only about 7 showed up, which dropped down to two couples and one single lady. Next time we will stay with the 6:15 seating or later as it is too early when you return from a tour to relax. Additionally, we will request a table for 6,  as it is easier to get to know people. We did have a good time with our table mates. We used room service for breakfast most days and tipped $2 each day, those trays are heavy to carry from the dining room. Always on time and excellent food choices. We used the laundry service and it was returned same day even though we selected normal service, what a surprise to us. Our room steward (ASEP) room 165 Balcony V deck was excellent. The entertainment was a good mix, though they could have more local talent. We are in our early sixties and were in the younger group but who cares? Lots of energy and at night the younger folks held court. The ship has been renovated and those beds were wonderful and comfortable. Internet service is expensive at $0.75 a minute with a set-up fee and plans to a lower rate. The speed was slow, not like a true ADSL/CABLE. The room and computers though were excellent. What was missing, a moot point , was not knowing the order of colors departing the ship on the last day. We did arrive late by about an hour, but as we were one the last groups, we were off by 10-10:30am in Montreal.    

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Jan 29, 2006

Southern Caribbean

Embarkation at Norfolk, Virginia was well handled and will only get better once the new terminal is complete. Arrival & welcome aboard made us very comfortable and after boarding at 12:20pm our cabin was ready within the hour. Our cabin was an outside on the Veranda deck so was very handy to all ship amenities. We had plenty of room and all in all it was very comfortable with excellent service from our cabin steward. Dinner the 1st night

was in the Pinnacle Grill as it was my wife's birthday - service and food were both 5*. Wish we could have eaten there every night as we found the quality of food in the Rotterdam dining room somewhat disappointing for dinners. Other than surf and turf one night there was nothing really mouth-watering on the menu and most entrees had sauces or spices which were unusual. Breakfast in the Rotterdam was always good - can't speak for lunch as we usually did the Lido or hamburger stand. There were usually lineups at the Lido which is less than desirable and if you go there for breakfast expect a long delay due to the location of the omellet grill. The dessert selection in the Rotterdam was not as scrumptious as previous cruises. Overall the ship's amenities are fairly well organized although in most cases the upholstery (carpets and sofas) are in dire straits. The Rembrandt Lounge should be totally renovated. On board soloist entertainment was fantastic, as were the house bands and in particular Fritzie in the piano bar is a great entertainer. The piano bar in itself is very inviting with superb trappings and superb service from the Filipino bar staff. The onboard stage shows are pretty amateurish and leave alot to be desired. Overall the onboard atmosphere is fairly relaxed and the activities staff are perhaps too laid back. The ship's itinerary is very good and all ports seem to offer a little something for everyone. The San Juan stop is too short though, however, the ship has a schedule to keep. We love 10/11 day cruises as opposed to 7. Overall we feel Holland America (perhaps it is just the Maasdam) has slipped in their overall presentation. We sailed the Zaandam to Alaska in 2003 and were more than pleased with the food in particular. Since then it has been twice with Princess and we feel "Princess does it a little better". One of our beefs with both cruise lines is "when will the dress code be enforced in the dining rooms" - blue jeans with short-sleeved shirts are certainly unacceptable on Formal Nights and for that matter on any night and ball caps are unacceptable in the dining room at anytime. Would we sail HA again - yes, but it would not be our 1st choice.  

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Dec 17, 2005

Eastern Caribbean

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, snorkle, shuffleboard, games, sports etc). Overall,

Holland America lived up to its reputation with 5 stars. Area for improvement: Half Moon Cay, St Martin, Antigua all a 10+. St Thomas we found to be a dump...drive across island to Magan'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.

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Dec 7, 2005

Eastern Caribbean

I returned from an Eastern Caribbean big band cruise on Holland America’s Maasdam the week before Christmas. Here are a few of my impressions, some similar to those of previous reviewer, others a bit different: 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 HAL’s 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 Crystal’s “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 men’s 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? It’s 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 – I’m 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 shouldn’t 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 (HAL’s 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. John’s, 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; I’ll probably remain onboard. St. Maarten: a pleasant combined bus and boat tour of both the Dutch and French sides of the island. I’d 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 knowledgable 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 80s. 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 there’s 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 didn’t 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 band’s excellent girl singer, Karina Calabro, was the on-stage singer in the opera scene in the film Pretty Woman. Too bad they don’t 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 Crystal’s level, but it is getting closer.  

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Dec 7, 2005

Eastern Caribbean

500th voyage of the Maasdam. Since this was a milestone cruise, HAL had many special parties and gifts for the passengers, and one fine gift was the Big Band, live, of Sammy Kaye, under the direction of Roger Thorpe. More on Sammy KayeOrchestra in the review to follow. We sailed on the Maasdam this past March, on the very same itinerary from Norfolk, Va. This being our third cruise on the ship, and a wonderful one. Our son drove us

to the Nauticus Pier, soon home to the $38million passenger terminal due to be completed in 2007. We embarked promptly, and raced to our cabin. We found our dining room assignment, and went to the Rotterdam Dining Room to find our request was not as we wanted, and had it corrected. The maitre d'hotel remembered us, as we remembered him and after a few cordial pleasantries, we were off to re-check the ship out (as though we did not know the ship blindfolded at this point)!.. Our bags arrived, we had time to unpack, and we noticed one more perk from the ongoing enhancements to the ship, a NEW TV, a flat screen, replacing the dreary clunkers of the past. Also, a power strip, the extension cord type, was an added bounus, for cell phone, Sonic Care Elite and digital camera charging. After life boat dril I photographed Norfolk lit up for Christmas, a nice sight, and one nicely viewed from the Sports Deck of the Maasdam. First night dinner was wonderful, as good as many mid-cruise dinners. Our table was located at an ideal location for us, and our wait staff and wine steward endeared themselves to us instantly. Not one waiter did we recognize from our first two Maasdam cruises. The Atlantic was rough the first night out, and there were many passengers absent from dinner, and from the introduction to the staff and first night Sammy Kaye show (half the band was missing)! The Maasdam suffered from a mechanical malfunction, which was corrected, with assurances from the captain,and they were corrected. The ship slowed a bit, and an hour was cut from the visit to Half Moon Cay. Last time around Half Moon Cay was not exactly pleasant, you can read my findings from the last review. We stayed on board, and went ashore for a drink, and returned after about an hour. Enough Half Moon Cay as far as we are concerned. Due to the ship being delayed, the shore side BBQ was held on board, at the Lido pool. The BBQ was really nice, nothing like the one last year. After Half Moon Cay, the cruise began in earnest, and the wonderful atmosphere of the Maasdam won most of her passengers over very rapidly. One was not, and I will feature her soon. The Captains Welcome dinner was awesome. I must note, every evening my Manhattan was waiting for me, the wine steward was at our service and we were oh so happy. I did find one tiny area to be unhappy about with the Rotterdam Restaurant. Maple syrup, as noted on the breakfast menu, is in fact table syrup. Also, we had several breakfasts there, as well as some lunches, trading off with the Lido breakfast and lunch. I reviewed th offerings of all dining venues on my two other reviews, well as the interior decor of this ship, and will limit them in this review. Since this was a special cruise, the 500th, as well as a holiday cruise, I would like to note some of the decorations on board. The atrium hosted a nearly three deck Christmas tree, with a sleigh, reindeer, santa, and live poinsettias. There many tastefully decorated trees thoughout the ship. Another large tree was placed in the Rembrandt Lounge. On the hull, forward, port and starboard sides, were stenciled: Happy Holidays, with Happy Holidays, and 500th Voyage. Crown Bay is new to me. It is new to a lot of people. It is a new docking area. We docked there with Sea Dream II, form we Sea Goddess 2. Shops are being radied, and it will probably be similar to Haven Sight pier and shops, whenever it gets completed. Now, for the only real complaint(s). We took a taxi, island for mini van. One woman"ME- a van - I never....." The other woman was not as snobbish. She used the F word a LOT, called the ship a twisted old tin can, and thought her trailer was nicer. And, OH, paying for the ride into town, when she could walk from the other place where ships were!! Give me break, that woman was nuts. The ride from Crown Bay to town is $4.00 each way, and from Havensight, it is now $5.00 each way. Gasoline we saw at $2.87 per gallon. Across the bay were one of the Grand Class Princess ships, Royal Caribbean Internationals Serenade of the Seas, and Carnival Destiny. We always enjoy St. Thomas. We have out "haunts" for shopping. Many people as k me where I like to shop, and I simply can not forward that advice, since shopping is very personal. Melanie on the Maasdam gives a wonderful series of port lectures, and she should be consulted. We finished out Christmas shopping, and while waiting for things to be sized or what ever, we went off to find lunch ashore. We often dine ashore, and we opted this time for Maison Amelia, located in the quiet and lush Palm Passage. Tapas, soups, salads from $4.95 - 14.95 ( seafood salad at that price), with entrees priced from $10.95 - 26.95. Our meal for two, with unlimited iced tea came to $42.00, pre-tip. I have seen many, oh, so many, ships musical shows, and all I can say about this cast was - boring. Singing to a click-track is so 1980's. Barry Mannilow now has a review of dancers and singers at sea, and this was the first ensemble, I hope the last, I see of his at sea. There were three comedians on board, one, Jason Chase, Branson Mo, as boring as Branson, I hope remains there. Bruce Block, with his live rabbit, was wonderful. Mick Lazinski, another good performer. We also had a superb singer, Eric Bohus, with a proper salute to Broadway, himself a Broadway performer, and pal of Tommy Tune. The Sammy Kaye Orchestra was awesome. I am not of the Big Band era, however, the songs are classics, and the older passengers loved the band. There were also male dance escorts for this special cruise. In addition, we had Seacrest, Mainlla Quartet, the Magic Strings and David the DJ. Antigua we docked with the Costa Allegra, as ugly a ship as I can remember, the intriging MSC Lirica, Saga Rose ex Sagafjord), Norwegian Spirit and Ocean, ex Ocean Princess, now P&O. Antigua is a lively place. Shopping here we leave to "souvenir" items. RastaPasta, not a place to eat pasta, but a sho[, has some nice shirts. St. Maarten was a nice as ever. We docked with Disney Magic. We did purchase some more things, and took a trusted shop keepers suggestion for a restaurant for lunch. We went down main street, to the right, walked to the Colleseum Casino, and entered the alley to find Man Bo. A dumpy place on the outside, serving superb, probably very authentic, Chinese food. Heinekens were only $6.00 US each. What a find this place was. No credit cards taken, only cash. San Juan was all too short. We added to our collection of Hatian paintings, with an oil of black pantheres and yellow tigers in a jungle setting. I can not praise the crew enough on this ship. We had Putu, our head dining steward, Dendra, his assistant, Zain, our table captain, and Fernando, one of the kindest, nicest wine stewards in a years. The Pinnacle Grill was wonderful, our favorite waiter, Peter, was seeing to a large party there, and we had a different waiter in his place. Our cabin steward, Eddy, kept our state room immaculate, and made towel animals for us each day. A really nice event occurs each holiday season with the Maasdam staff in charge. They pick a different island each year, and bring toys to needy children This year it was Puerto Rico, and the crew donned elf and Santa costumes for the presentation pf toys. Captain van der Loo runs a wonderful ship. He referes to the Maasdam as the "beautiful and elegant Maasdam" and he is crrect. Further reconstruction will see an enlarged Crows Nest Lounge, the new Culinary Center (in part of the Wajang Theater) and an expanded Spa. A newly reworked library, cafe and internet center will be made. As much as we love HAL and the Maasdam, we are booked in February on Oceana Cruise Lines ms Rigatta. But, no to despair, we booked a November 2006 Maasdam cruise from Norfolk while on board. The four ships hinted about in March for HAL, will be one new ship, due out in 2008. We had a mystery on board, birthday balloons taped tou our stateroom door. There were no birthdays, non celebrated, and nobody knew why they were at our door. It always made us smile, however.

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Nov 20, 2005

Eastern Caribbean

My wife and I had been waiting to go on a cruise since we first got married in 1979, and used to watch 1st run episodes of The Love Boat on TV. Finally we decided we didn’t want to wait anymore and scheduled a 10 day Caribbean Cruise for our 25th Anniversary. It’s important to do your homework to get all you want from a cruise. We wanted the Caribbean because of the weather, and we had been stationed in the islands (both in the Navy)

right after we got married. Once having decided on a destination, we looked at the lines and ships to cruise on. We picked Holland America for several reasons, important for a good experience, especially the 1st time. Being in our mid-late 40’s and wanted to have time alone without our kids; we didn’t want a line that heavily caters to families with children. Neither are we into big crowds, so we were looking for a smaller ship. And we wanted more of the 60’s and 70’s experience than a 21st Century offering like many of the lines do. We picked the Maasdam because it left out of Norfolk, which is only 6 hours from where we live (no airfare), and we lived in the Norfolk/VA. Beach area for 8 years before my wife retired from the Navy in 1997. Picking a port where you can drive, and leave your car safe, can make a big difference in how much you want to spend on a cabin, and how much money you will have to spend on your cruise. We booked our cruise directly through Holland America, and ended up dealing with 2 cruise specialists, one doing about 80% of the work. And I had lots of questions to ask, which I sent by E mail and on the phone. HAL has great personnel, and if you aren’t familiar with your local travel agents, HAL can do the job for you quite efficiently. We even got a nice cabin upgrade just because we told the line it was our 25th anniversary. Pre Cruise Arrival— I had heard and seen personally too many incidents in airports where Cruise Passengers are screwed over in airports trying to make same day flights to the port. I don’t work in the Hotel industry, but if you want a nice leisurely start to your cruise, plan to come in the day/night before the cruise leaves and spend the night before in a hotel at your port city. We own a timeshare at VA. Beach and we reserved a night there. Leaving home at noon, arriving at the hotel at 6, we had time for a quiet dinner and got to bed early, nice to have the sounds of the ocean coming through the crack in the balcony window (remember, it’s November!). We got up Sat AM, had a leisurely breakfast in the hotel eatery, and then put our suitcases in the back of the truck for the 10 mile ride to the Cruise Parking areas. Embarkation Having been an employee of the City of Norfolk for 6 years (deputy sheriff 1990-1995), I know how the Norfolk City Government can make a mess of just about anything. However, after checking with some of my old neighbors and reading the cruise port sections of the city website, I was very pleasantly surprised how well the city has things organized. Although the cruise parking lots are immediately adjacent to one of the nastier public housing projects, the lots are freshly resurfaced, very well fenced off and lighted, and securely patrolled. (arrived in the lot at 10:45AM) At $10.00 a day I found the parking a great value, and kept me from having to ask one of my old neighbors to drive us to and from the port area. We had our bags offloaded by a porter at our parking spot, (a former inmate of the city jail who remembered me) and I had to force him to take a 5.00 tip. The Norfolk Parking Enforcement folks, who don’t have the best reputation locally, were outstanding. They took our travelers checks for the 100.00 parking fee, and had extra baggage tags available for us if we needed them. We then proceeded to the shuttle buses for the short trip to the embarkation area. At the time we cruised (11/04) the onshore embarkation facility was a large heated tent, but it served the purpose very well. Security screeners are active (on part time) and retired law enforcement working for the security company, and one of my former colleagues searched me at the checkpoint. Having saved a bunch of trouble by submitting our Immigration paperwork online at HAL’s website, we passed through check in (obligatory ship’s pictures) and crossed the brow before 11:30, and headed to the Lido to eat, have a drink or two, and wait for the call that the staterooms were ready. Cabin---We had an outside cabin on the Lower Promenade Deck. As we didn’t select our cabin, I will advise you of the only negative of our entire experience. First, avoid the Lower Promenade Deck if possible for an outside cabin. Passengers can see directly into your room if the drapes are open, the lifeboats make a racket in wind or rough seas, and our cabin was right next to the companionway doors to the deck. The doors make a lot of noise in windy weather, and early morning walkers and joggers WILL bother you. Our other problem was with the toilet in our cabin being broken for several hours one day, and most of the public area toilets were broken as well. Once the engineering department fixed that problem, there were no other incidents of that kind for the remainder of the cruise. Our cabin steward Iwan was outstanding. He knew us by name by the end of the first night on board, and he had 30 cabins to care for. He spent some of his spare time that first night finding a wayward bag of ours that the tag had come off. (Always have an ID tag INSIDE your bags) Dining----I found the food on the Maasdam to be excellent, good portions, tasty and didn’t get anything to eat that I disliked. Our Dining room waiter Artana (Art) and his assistant June were outstanding in every way. The Lido also had good food, well cooked, served with smiles, and the table attendants were also friendly and courteous. We didn’t eat in the Pinnacle Grill, I couldn’t see paying extra when all the food is free, but I am considering trying on our next cruise. The Bar Staff is all Filipino, and the servers also learn your name very quickly. The few words of Tagalog that I know from being in their islands for a short time brought big smiles and what I think was extra special attention, though there was always a bar attendant around regardless of where you are on the ship. Other Staff- the Ship’s office was good, courteous, and didn’t make any mistakes on my bill. The Cruise Director handled his staff well, and though most of them were pretty young, they worked well with the mostly older crowd. Ships stores were well stocked and personnel attentive and friendly. Overall the Captain had a great crew. Port Calls. Half Moon Cay was a great day; we stayed on the beach for about 5 hours. Antigua had not changed much in the 23 years since I had been there last; we took a nice tour of the Island, and had a nice shopping experience. Ditto with St. Thomas, nothing much changed, but had a nice day of shopping. St.Maarten was the only stop we had not visited previously, and though the business area was under much repair to street and sidewalks, we found the beach nice, the water taxis great, and the shopping was good as well. The stop in our former home of San Juan, PR was a bit of a disappointment, only that the ship only stopped there for about 6 hours. At sea days had activities if you wanted them, but we preferred to sit on the deck, relax and read while getting some sun and salt air. Disembarkation—Very Smooth. We were called to leave the ship at 8:50 am, and had cleared customs, had our bags claimed, took the bus back to the parking area, and was clear of the Tidewater area and back on US 58 headed home by 9:30. It was a wonderful 1st cruise experience, and we are going on the Westerdam this November for a week to some of the Western Caribbean Islands with HAL.

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May 13, 2005

Montreal/Boston

Shame on you Holland American. Overnight you have fallen from one of the top cruise lines to the bottom. Who cares about the million dollar program of upgrading bed sheets and building a cooking demo unit when the major areas of interest to passengers, food and social programs have been seriously downgraded? While the new library is a knockout with comfortable chairs, individual stereo music units, a huge selection of the latest books

and games, and an internet café, it is placed next to the casino where the sound of the slot machines is sure to disturb. FOOD While there were a few high spots, in general the dishes in the dining room were mediocre. Most of the dishes were served lukewarm and in most of the cases they were misrepresented or bastardized versions of what they claimed to be. This was in contrast to HAL’s sister cruise line the so-called “budget” Carnival line which gets everything right the first time. While ingredients were reduced in quality, it is my belief that execution was equally at fault. Apparently, mediocre production in the kitchen. Is a stronger executive chef needed? The desserts are disgraceful. They are of the quality of a cheap all you can eat buffet on land. Just a mixture of endless variations of sponge cake, and imitation mousse and toppings. In fact much of the baked goods seem to be wholly or partially outsourced. There was little variety. The Lido was a scandal. Messy, dirty, empty dishes, and undermanned. The so-called Chocolate Grand Buffet(?) on the next-to-last night was so unpopular that people were deserting the area as quickly as they could glance at the offerings. By the way, a written complaint to the guest services manager went unanswered. SOCIAL- Very few activities. A very small social staff.  Very few announcements on the PA system and the “ improved”(?) daily activities program was hard to follow. Hence we missed the cooking demonstrations. Perhaps they repeated the demos on stateroom TV but we never received a TV guide to what was playing on TV. We also never received the schedule of in-cabin TV movies so we missed many good first run films. For reasons I will never understand, the Captain decided to view the lovely fjords of the Saguenay River from 6-8 AM. Surely the schedule could have been advanced to a more reasonable hour like 8-10 AM. Most passengers went to the Lido Buffet to view the fjords. Even though breakfast was ready at 6.30 AM, the staff refused to begin service until the scheduled opening of 7:30 AM . We could only stare at the food for 1-1/2 hours. While there were some good things, such as the library, entertainment, friendly staff and cabin size, as a veteran of 40+ cruises, HAL sinks to the bottom of my list. Poor value. Never again with HAL.  

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Apr 10, 2005

Southern Caribbean

This was certainly a different cruise than the first 2 we did with Holland America. A day before departure we were called and told that the ship would be docking two hours late and would also be leaving that same two hours late. We made the three hour drive two hours later than we had originally planned and found that we were still about three hours earlier than we needed to be. The Maasdam did not arrive at the dock until after 3PM after

losing an engine and encountering bad weather on her previous trip. HAL had arranged a "hospitality room" at the nearby Marriott which was visited by most of the waiting passengers. A steady stream of busses circulated between the Nautica, the hotel, the mall and a couple of other locations. Shore personnel did their best to keep us informed but we seldom got the same story twice in a row as to expected ETD. About 6:30 we were told to board a bus which then waited at the hotel for 30 minutes prior to heading for the dock. Once at the dock we joined the long line for check-in which moved at a reasonable pace. The weather was good so this was only a minor inconvenience. We finally boarded the ship at 8:05PM. We were shown the way to our spacious outside cabin on the main deck and our luggage was waiting for us all in good order. A special package of amenities ordered by our children in honor of our 25th anniversary was also found in the room - all in order. We did a small amount of unpacking and headed to the Lido for a quick late supper. The Lido was almost empty but there was no shortage of tasty food for some now tired travelers. We returned to our cabin and called the Front Office to request a pair of extension cords and some distilled water for my C-pap machine that regulates ny breathing while I sleep. The electrical cords appeared almost immediately but the concept of "Distilled Water" was a difficult one for both the front office staff and room service. When I finally explained that I was not planning to drink it and that the engineers would certainly have some for their batteries, I finally had a 2 liter bottle brought to our door by a front office rep going off duty. We sailed sometime around 11PM and I went to bed almost immediately. We debarked the pilot around 1:30AM and turned south. The Maasdam is indeed a beautiful ship, slightly smaller than the twin flagships we had previously sailed in (Rottersam and Amsterdam). Due to our late departure, the continuing problem with one of the diesel generators and some adverse sea conditions and currents, we were informed by our Captain that we would have to forego the stop at Half Moon Cay and would be proceeding directly to the USVI. A few groans and mild complaints could be heard but all in all no big deal. The ship arrived at St Thomas at 5:45AM on Thursday. Everyone was glad to get ashore after three long days at sea. The weather was good but the seas were still up a little for the ferry ride to St. Johns. We toured the park by a slightly cramped open air "coach" and enjoyed the pretty sights while being bounced around by the bad roads that seemed to be everywhere. We left St Thomas around 6:15 and headed for Dominica, arriving the next morning at 11:30. Took the Aerial Tram ride through the Tropical Rain Forest. Great tour, excellent guide - enjoyed it very much. Proceeded that night to Barbados - a nice change of pace from the other islands. Everyone seemed to take a different excursion and everyone seemed to enjoy themselves. We took the "Coast to Coast Tour" and got a chance to see most of the island from a modern comfortable bus. A good guide helped make this a real nice experience. Left Barbados around 5PM and got ready for dinner and the highlight of the trip for us - a Renewal of Vows as part of our 25th anniversary celebration. The Captain presided over a very moving and impressive event for 6 couples like us and an equal number of honeymooners. We received a very nice package commemorating the event with some really good photos. We arrived in St Kitts a bit late on Sunday morning. The balky diesel generator was still out of service despite a team of specialists for the home office and some replacement parts. The Captain kept us well informed as to the progress (or lack of) throughout and his references to the engineers "rowing" down on B-deck to keep up our speed helped keep everyone's mood on a positive footing. St Kitts has the only passenger tain in the Eastern Caribbean and many of us took the train tour that goes halfway around the island through some scenic sugar cane plantations and a number of quaint villages with happy villagers waving as we passed each one. The ride was scenic, enjoyable and featured some of the best rum drinks of any of the islands we visited. At the mid-point of the ride, we left the train and reboarded our coaches for a nice tour of the other side of the island. St. Kitts has some progressive leadership and the island seems to be prospering while retaining its charm. I would like to return some time for a longer visit. Really nice folks, good roads, good shopping, overall a great island. Shortly after our departure Captain van del Loo came on the PA system to announce that one of the parts needed to fix the balky diesel had been inadvertently left out of the shipment of parts and that it could not be gotten to the ship in San Juan as anticipated. He announced to our great disappointment that we would also have to bypass San Juan in order to get back to Norflk on our expected date of return. He told us that a package of refunds and compensation was being arranged by the main office in Seattle and promised to keep us well informed which he did, even scheduling a no-holds-barred Q&A session the next morning by any or all who wished to "grill" him. A fair package (without being overly generous) was offered to all and most felt it was appropriate for the circumstances. The food on this trip was even better than what we had on our 2 previous HAL cruises. We ate dinner one night in the Pinnacle (on our anniversary) andf the rest of the time in the Rotterdam. Our table steward, "Sumi", was a prince and took sparkling care of all our dinnertime needs. He is a 30 year veteran and seems to truly enjoy his work. His able assistant and the rest of the staff of maitre-de's, doormen, wine stewards and the like did a really super job. We were very pleased with the table we were assigned and our dining companions - all people much like ourselves in age, experience and interests. No one missed dinner as we looked forward to each others company each evening. We were generally the first table seated for the 6:15 service and almost always the last to leave. I am an early riser and enjoyed a nice, varied breakfast each morning in the Lido. It is well run and the staff were happy, efficient and a pleasure to be around. The food was always well presented and very appetizing. We normally skipped lunch but did enjoy it a couple of days in the Lido, as well. Our cabin steward "Joe" was the epitome of efficiency and pleasantness. Another veteran who seemed to really enjoy meeting people and he took obvious pride in keeping "his" rooms as the sharpest on the ship. He gets a double-A-plus. The Cruise Activity staff was far and above the best we had encountered. "Bingo Boy Troy" was an old friend from a previous trip aboard the Amsterdam and we quickly renewed and old friendship. The rest of Directo DiRoccos staff were talented, fun and always seemed to be mingling. "Lucky" Lindsey seemed to really enjoy socializing with the guests. They organized alot of impromptu activities due to the extra days at sea due to the missed ports and kept us well entertained. We hope to see our friend Troy move up to the ranks of Cruise Director as he will surely make an outstanding one. Speaking of entertainment. The Cast of the Maasdam (10 truly talented performers) put on 3 really top notch shows. Worth special mention is the lead male singer Peter who has an incredible voice and also the singing and dancing of Katie - the #2 female vocalist. They were all great but these two stood out. The rest of the performers ranged from very good down to fair. We had one really good male vocalist/humorist who's name escapes me (he was the one with the Uke), one excellent stand-up comic - Lee Bayless (who went on the night the missed port in PR was announced) and single-handedly seemed to turn around the mood of the whole ship. The Filipino contingent of the crew put on the traditional Crew show which was really a treat. A bartender turned Emcee and some super singers and dancers made this a show not to be missed. The guests put on another HAL traditional show - the Great Pretenders where guests in some pretty outlandish costumes lip-synched to some favorite oldies, supported by the activity staff. Our arrival in Norfolk was on-time. Departure was effortless and we were home in North Carolina by early afternoon, already missing our "Beautiful and Elegant Maasdam". Overall, this trip was one of contrasts: mechanical problems dogged us the whole cruise through but the quality of the ship's company from the Skipper on down made up for it. I'd have to give the Maasdam top marks for food, drink, entertainment and friendliness. Now if those guys on B-deck could only row a little faster...  

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Mar 31, 2005

Southern Caribbean

Flight to Norfolk & Hotel If I never fly American Airlines again, it will be too soon. My flight to St.Louis was late getting in and I only had 20 minutes before the connecting flight to Norfolk started boarding. I had a quick cigarette and went to the gate. After boarding began ½ hour late, we backed away from the gate and parked. We were told there was a weather delay again and again. After being held hostage for 3.5 hours and returning

to the gate for more fuel, we finally took off. Why we couldn’t have waited in the terminal is beyond me. Arrived at the Tazwell around 2:45 AM (4 hours late). The Tazwell is still a work in progress but the service was very good, décor interesting. I doubt it can be beat for $70.00, including continental breakfast. It is about 4 blocks from the Nauticus terminal. Embarkation I got in a long line outside the Nauticus terminal at 11:30 am, Thursday. The line moved quickly and I was on the lido deck by 12:15. I met Charlie and Lola in line and had drinks with them on the Lido. Nice couple. Next I met a fun bunch of ladies (Pat, Linda and Momma) while waiting for my cabin. They turned out to be seated at the same table as me for dinner. The lido pool area had plenty of tables and chairs in both the smoking and non-smoking areas. The area was very clean and attractive. Had a quick bite. It was announced at 1:00 PM that the cabins were ready. Cabin 106 I went to my ‘C’ category cabin at 1:30 PM. There are only 6 of these ‘C’ cabins on the verandah deck. A well kept secret, as they are the same price as the Cs on the lower decks. They are very quiet because forward of them is a ‘staff only’ area. When you look at a picture of the Maasdam, they are the row of 6 windows right before where the verandahs start. The luggage was in the process of being delivered by my excellent cabin steward Suyradi (Eddie). Eddie worked remarkably hard the entire voyage and always greeted me warmly by name. Nice cabin, very clean, great beds. Relaxing colors of yellow and blue green. I had a full size couch, which was very nice for napping. The flowers, champagne, soda card and excursion tickets I had pre-ordered were there. The outside of my (expensive) window was very caked with salt. I realize they can’t be cleaned every cruise, but this one hadn’t been cleaned in a long a while. That, however, was the only flaw I found. The Ship Captain van der Loo can be heard frequently saying “the beautiful and elegant Maasdam”. That is not an overstatement. She really is. The Maasdam is just the right size. It never felt crowded. I couldn’t find any signs of wear in her finishes. The ship is filled with art and antiques. Fresh flowers everywhere. REAL towels in the public restrooms (use once then into the dirty bin. I almost had to use paper once but just as I needed a towel the bin was refilled). The ship lived up to HAL’s ‘spotless ships’ reputation. The décor is a treat for the eyes. I spent all 10 days exploring and I’m sure I didn’t see everything. Dining Rotterdam: I had the best tablemates at dinner. I dined with Pat, Linda, Momma, Joe, Kay, Dave, Eric/Neal, JoAnn and Vicki at a round table for 10 (table 134). Everyone hit it off well. Kudos to maitre’d Tri for his instincts. We were usually the last table out of the late main seating because we were having so much fun. We were attended to by (an overworked) Lucman as our waiter and Dody as his assistant. Our headwaiter was Komang. All did a very fine job. I thought the food was quite tasty. A good variety prepared well and presently nicely. My favorite was the rack of lamb and quail combo. In the 10 nights, only one item was sent back by anyone at the table. That says it all. I had very good eggs benedict there a couple times for breakfast. The menu is the same every morning. Lunches were long and lazy, enjoyed with other new acquaintances. There was a nice variety in the lunch menus. Pinnacle Grille: Manager Mark and his team of Peter H. and Oscar provided a stellar nexus of service, food and ambiance. I had the tasting menu – 6 courses with a different wine with each course. The charge was $49.99. Beautiful Bvlgari china and ridel crystal. Special westerhoff silver and Italian linens completed the setting. The staff and chefs are allowed time for individual service and preparation. The expertly prepared food featured northwest ingredients. The thoughtful wine pairings were from the same region. As a smoker, I appreciated being allowed to repair to the Explorers Lounge for a cigarette between courses. Peter H. trained in Eastern Europe as a waiter and it shows. He didn’t miss a trick (before getting into computers I had worked in fine dining for 12 years). I’d highly recommend this experience. Lido Dining: I usually only had breakfast from the lido. The food was good with a wide selection that was the same every day. Very nice fruit selection. I lunched in the lido a couple times when the menu was better than the Rotterdam. There was wide selection, which varied every day. Good salad bar. I was impressed with the live orchids on the tables. There was usually a staff member present at the ice tea and coffee area to pour your beverage. Lots of sumptuous dessert selections I avoided. Excellent bread pudding (I had just a taste). Room Service I ordered room service every morning for coffee and once for a full breakfast. As I am a sound sleeper, I wrote ‘please call when you are on the way’ at the top of my order. I was awakened each morning by ‘Good morning Mr. Scott, we are on the way with your tray’. If that’s not living, I don’t know what is. Needless to say they received generous tips. Bar service Cesar and Dan (Oceans Bar) and Marife (Explorers Lounge & Lido pool) are the best. I’m still amazed how they learn your name so quickly and constantly in a good mood. They are professionals who are an asset to HAL. Front Desk I had three experiences with the front desk. One exceptionally good, one not so good and one very bad. On the first formal night, I called around 11:30 AM to see if there was somewhere on the ship I could purchase a boutonnière. I was told no. At 2:30 PM I went to my cabin for a siesta and a boutonnière had magically appeared (I later found out those were for suite passengers but an exception was made for me.) That was the exceptionally good service. For the not so good see ‘plumbing’ below. Very bad: JoAnn gave me a very hard time when I needed a hotel room due to the late arrival and subsequent flight change (I never saw her smile the whole cruise, she sat behind her desk scowling at the computer and guests). Captain van der Loos’ gracious letter of apology clearly stated anyone needing a room would get one. I was able to show her my new boarding pass and completed an updated my disembarkation/immigration form, but AA was having difficulty getting an email to the ship. Two of my dinner companions were driving home and received the hotel vouchers without a question. Why it was such a problem for me I do not know. JoAnn was insisting I had to pay for it myself and then get reimbursed. I had already had to pay the $100 change fee and submit it for reimbursement. I didn’t think I should have to finance all of HAL’s expenses for the breakdown. I eventually lied and claimed I had no money (I had plenty) for a hotel, in order for her to produce the letter to the Marriott. Ports Half Moon Cay was nice, although I enjoyed tendering (first time) more than the island. We had rough seas, which made tendering an adventure in itself. I did not partake of the BBQ. Captain van der Loo had a rough day as we were not able to anchor, and he had to keep the Maasdam in position using the thrusters. In St. Thomas I did a little shopping (no purchases this time) and then the Kon Tiki party-boat excursion. They are exactly what they bill themselves to be. A party boat. Very strong rum punch (self serve and unlimited.) Excellent steel drum music. There was dancing, line dancing and a limbo contest. No one was forced to participate. Cruised around the bay gawking at the mega-yachts then an hour stop at Honeymoon Beach. We floated over a coral formation and they opened the glass bottom of the boat. We were treated to nice views of fish while they were being fed. I’d highly recommend this tour. A good time was had by all (perhaps too good by some). Antigua made me appreciate how good we Americans have it. On my last visit I had taken a guided tour around the island. This time I was waitlisted to get on the helicopter tour to Montserrat, as they were contracted to another cruise line. I was not successful. I walked up to a large basilica that could be seen from the ship. The level of poverty saddened me. There was raw sewage in the gutters. I personally witnessed several people urinating in public. There were few sidewalks and dangerous traffic. The basilica was interesting (started in 1803 and completed in 1815 and currently under renovation). There was an intriguing cemetery adjacent, but it was filled with homeless people and I thought it was best to give them their space. St. Marteen was the total opposite of Antigua. Very clean and friendly. I took the (non HAL) Lord Sheffield sailing tour. We sailed to the northern tip of the island, to the Los Hermosa Resort, on a 73 foot twin masted sailing ship for an hour of swimming and snorkeling. Captain Rob and his crew were excellent. Beers and punch were plentiful and refilled constantly. Delicious ribs cooked onboard. I’d highly recommend their tour. There were a total of 8 ships in port and it looked like a parking lot. The Maasdam was the most beautiful ship of all in port that day. We tendered far out in the bay next to the Christina O. I had been to San Juan before so all I did in the limited time available was visit Puerto Rico Drugs and Marshall’s to get a tie for the second (surprise) informal night. Hint: take a cab up and walk down. Pretty architecture reminiscent of the French Quarter in New Orleans, only painted up in pastels. Bingo Bingo boy Troy, as he bills himself, needs to clean up his act. His genitalia jokes are very tacky and un-HAL. I don’t know where they found him but he should be thrown back. Entertainment I only saw a couple of the shows. The ‘vegas’ style shows utilize lip-synching which is not to my liking. Mark Newsome (I think that was his name) was funny and entertaining. We had a female vocalist, the name escapes me, who performed a nice variety of songs and is most likely the only Filipino–Irish yoddeler on the planet. I thoroughly enjoyed the Champagne Strings in the Explorers Lounge every night after dinner. The Indonesian crew show was the best. Plumbing Only one plumbing mishap I was aware of. The first night at around 11:00 PM I stopped back at my cabin and found a note saying the water would be off the following morning from 10 AM – 3 PM. As I wanted to stay up late and sleep in, I called the front desk to see if there was an alternate spot that I could have my shower in the morning. I was told no. I later found out from my tablemates I could have used the spa showers. I appreciate that the ship does require maintenance, but they could at least be truthful about alternate shower locations. I consider myself lucky though, compared to some of the other plumbing horror stories. Air Conditioning It was quite warm in the Rotterdam Dining Room (we kept out menus and used them as fans) on the nights we were in the Caribbean. Tolerable when we were further North. My cabin was OK only because I brought a fan. I heard one little old lady, scantily clad in short-shorts and a sleeveless tee, complaining it was freezing (put something on, dear). Sea Conditions We had mild seas with gentle rocking until the last night, when we encountered 30-foot seas and gale force winds. Lots of wild pitching. Lots of crashing and booming. I was airborne more than once while trying to pack. Glasses, ice bucket and toiletries where tossed to the floor during the night. I enjoy rough seas, but felt sorry for the ones who don’t. Engine Troubles We lost an engine on the way to San Juan. Captain van der Loo kept us as well informed as could be expected. He was genuinely apologetic for the trouble. He hosted a ship-wide open bar for 2 hours to say ‘sorry’. It was no problem for me, as it extended my cruise by 10 hours and added a sense of adventure. It has been talked about a lot in other threads so I’ll stop here. Disembarkation As I was staying overnight, I was in the final group, #32. We were called about 7:15 PM and disembarked without incident. I have never cleared customs so quickly. They weren’t checking anyone, just collecting the slips as quickly as possible. The shuttle bus to the Marriott was waiting and we were whisked away. Check-in at the Marriott was a breeze, thanks to Ashley and Rob. Had dinner at Jillian’s with Kay and Joe from our table. Good wings, onion rings and a pitcher of ling ling beer along with very dry burgers. Final thoughts Will I ever sail Hal again? Possibly. There were so many good things about this cruise. Things happen and its not the problem, but how the problem is handled that is important to me. JoAnn (keep in mind she is an officer) handled the hotel issue very poorly. I will have to think about sailing again with a company that would leave me stranded after a mechanical breakdown.  

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Mar 18, 2005

Eastern Caribbean

This is our third trip on HAL and we have noticed that it is becoming much more "Carnivalised" - more interested in selling drinks and land tours rather than leaving us alone to do as we choose. Also, the ship left Antigua five hours before its originally scheduled departure time, meaning that my wife and I could not take the ferry to Montserrat for the day, which was the main reason for booking this particular cruise. We won't be sailing

with HAL again.    

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Mar 10, 2005

Southern Caribbean/Norfolk

Last year we took the Maasdam on the 11 day Southern Caribbean Cruise from Norfolk. The ship was late arriving in Norfolk, and as a result, we waited hours to board, while the ship was cleaned and readied for the next cruise. This year, everything was orderly, and ready, and after checking in, showing our proof of US citizenship and travel documents three times, we boarded. There is nothing else on earth like the smell, the sense of feeling,

as one steps off the gangway and onto a ship, to be greeted by a smiling crew member, and escorted to your stateroom. I reviewed the elegant public rooms and general decor of the Maasdam last year, March 2nd cruise, and will not repeat decor reviews here. Please let it be known, the ship is as elegant, regal and beautiful as last year. Our steward came by and introduced himself, referring to us by our sir names. We rechecked our Welcome Aboard packet, took our dining room assignment, and set off to the Rotterdam Dining Room to check out our table assignment. We had a table for two, next to our table from last year, and all seemed to be in order. We went back to our stateroom, and the baggage had arrived. Unpacked most of the hanging items, then, went off to the Lido for lunch. In the 70's and 80's, passengers boarded and waited HOURS for anything to eat, which was the first nights dinner, after life boat drill and sailing away had begun. Thankfully, contemporary cruise lines now offer lunch or some meal long before dinner. Here is a run down of the Lido, which varied at lunch time each day, and consisted of these selections: two or three soups, tomatoes or avocado stuffed with shrimp or crab, large salad bar, rolls, breads, pasta bar, or Thai stir fry, cold cuts and cheeses, sandwich deli bar, entrees of veal, turkey, lamb, fish, beef, a carving station, assorted vegetable and potato side dishes, fresh fruit, juices, cold picnic salads....I could go on, and then desserts and the ice cream parlor. Sugar free pastries are still offered, as well as a special brad pudding each day. This grand buffet is offered each day, with daily specials. A full formal lunch is offered in the Rotterdam Dining Room, as well as three kinds of pizza (which was quite good), burgers and hot dogs and a taco bar. After lunch we strolled around the ship, taking in the Maasdams beauty, and noting the excellent condition of the ship. We learned that the ship had a four day "wet docking" in Norfolk, and acres of carpeting was replaced, new curtains and draperies were installed and a lot of reupholstering was done. The ship was gleaming, and fresh. The floral arrangements seemed larger and more prominent than I remembered. Last year, new ice buckets were the first sign of the new $225million refit. During the dry dock, all staterooms and suites received new telephones, pillow top mattresses, European bed linens, Egyptian towels (almost bath sheets), plush robes, hair dryers, toiletries...new TV's are next, flat screen. The Pinnacle Grill was added last year as well, and new public spaces will add a culinary school at sea, a gutted and refitted Crows Nest, and totally revamped Ocean Spa, and a new Library Internet Cafe. The Ryndam, and Zaandam, have had the total refit completed. Our stateroom was nice, same as last years, not at all unlike most new ships staterooms, except for the wonderful mattress and towels. Room service is generous, and ordering liquor packages are now available for in-cabin consumption. Hard spirits, beer and wine packages are available through room service, each offering a savings, and include 15% gratuity - check the black binder on the desk in you cabin. Had boat drill, and prepared for dinner. So far, been on the ship for 5 hours, and have not heard one complaint. We enjoyed a brief breakfast in the stateroom, usually coffee, pastry or toast, once an omelet, always on time, presented nicely. Also, we took in the Lido breakfast, and a few times, formal breakfast in the Rotterdam Dining Room. I must note that the Eggs Bennedict in the dining room were better than last year, and real maple syrup is served in the dining room, where table syrup is served in the Lido at breakfast. Omelets made by Ernesto, at the Lido for breakfast, are outstanding. Finished unpacking, and readied for dinner, which was casual. We always anticipate the arrival into the dining room on a Holland America ship. There is a sophistication, an air of the grand, and the escorting to the table that first night, with anticipation of great meals to come. Once seated, our steward, Dewi (Dewison), and Mat, his assistant, made us feel right at home, and Roberto had the wine we preordered, waiting at the table. I ordered a Manhattan, and from that night forward, he had our preordered bottle of wine, and the Manhattan waiting at the table. Our table Captain, Andre, was caring, and saw to our satisfaction. Highlights from this first dinner were: steamed mussels, Smoked Salmon Tartare with avocado, breast of pheasant, roast pork loin, and Chicken Cordon Bleu. We often had the cheese plate and dessert each evening. Also, each evening there is a flambéed dessert prepared in the dining room. Always available in addition to each dinner menu, are, a Caesar salad, grilled salmon, seared chicken breast and sirloin steak. Additionally, for passengers that wish to dine other than in the dressy dining room, the Lido offers supper. Live music is important on a cruise, and there are some fine offerings on the Maasdam. Nevada, in the Ocean Bar, The Champagne Strings, provides soft classics, Explorers Lounge, a pianist at the Piano Bar, Sea Breese, at the pool and at night in the Crows Nest, and the Maasdam Band, also called the Maasdam Orchestra, 6 fine musicians, that sound wonderful They perform for the ships singers cabaret performers, and for the Maasdam Cast, also called the Cast of the Maasdam. Also, Ronin, the DJ, actually takes requests! The Maasdam Cast, nine very talented performers, sing and dance their hearts out, to standing ovations, during the cruise. Sure, every "ship" does Broadway, the 60's a so forth, yet, it is the enthusiasm, costumes and the LIVE band that separates these kids from others. No click-track, no lip-syncing - just live performing. Two years in a row Half Moon Cay was canceled due to weather conditions. We got there this year. Here are my findings: get a number, number is called, proceed to tender ashore-beach is lovely, 1200 plus passengers from Maasdam, 1800 plus from Westerdam on the beach - take tram to BBQ hut - wait in long long line (moves fast)-handed plastic utensils, SMALL paper plate - move to salads, slaw, potato, with mayo and slime on handles of serving spoons YUCK - plastic serving spoon floating in three bean salad DOUBLE YUCK - salad greens blowing off small paper plate - move along to burger-small, dry, on a stale oversized bun - get hotdog, hard, in a saw -dusty roll, look at ribs, not appetizing - get watered down iced tea in tiny plastic cup. Needless to say, I skipped the salads, ate the dog, and was handed ONE cookie for dessert. The shops were far less than billed on board. Water sports, excursions and horseback riding are the main attractions here. If I step foot ashore again, it will be after lunch on the ship. I should have gone riding. I should note that as with where the bands and musicians play so it is likely that bar stewards and waiters from cruise to cruise are also subject to change. We had a wonderful bar steward last year, Cesar. This year he is a bar tender, and we found him in the Crows Nest. He is a charming fellow, and we made friends with two other great bar tenders, Dan and Arnello, also in the Crows Nest. Captains Gala Dinner lived up to expectations. Pate Foie Gras, Jumbo Shrimp Cocktail, Lobster Bisque, nice salads (although I found the blue cheese dressing to be god-awful), Alaskan King Crab Legs, cracked open and full of crab meat, lamb and filet mignon, served with a perfect béarnaise sauce - oh yum. Desserts were wonderful, crepes Georgette, and a fabulous watermelon cake, which was sherberts more like a bombe, formed to resemble a slice of watermelon. Other dinner highlights during the cruise consisted of duck, New England lobster tails, clams, oysters Rockefeller, Thai chicken sates, Indonesian specialties, pastas, veal, venison and the menus kept getting better! I enjoyed the best Beef Wellington that I have had in years during this cruise, and the roast beef was outstanding as was the prime rib. Soups were also wonderful. But that blue cheese dressing.... Now, for the Pinnacle Grill - last year, the grill was excellent, although it was not different or unique enough to make us want to go back, since the Rotterdam Dining Room was so good (AND still is). So, Sterling Silver Beef is offered, cooked at 1600's F and it as fine as you would order in THE most expensive steak houses. The whole meal is perfection in itself. Too much? Not at $20.00, per, including tip. A real treat. Our waiter was a fine young Hungarian (wait staff in the Pinnacle is European) Why? I do not know. St. Thomas -well, I think we've been here around 40 times, so, I don't get that excited. We docked with Carnival Destiny, a huge white WALL of a hulk, and Golden Princess, another white hulk - in fact, the Maasdam looked like the eraser at the end of a huge pencil! I am not putting these ships down for their size. It is nice that there is such a great diversity in which to choose for a cruise. I enjoyed several cruises on Grand Princess. If size matters, I prefer the personal attention found on the Maasdam, a nice medium size ship. Back to St. Thomas... So, poked around, shopped, poked some more, and had lunch at The Green House, opposite the harbor. $30.00 for two, place was clean, food not too exciting. Took in the Indonesian Show, always a treat. Once Antigua was a sleepy place, always the one ship in. We docked with P&O's Oceana (former Ocean Princess), Serenade of the Seas (another incredible bulk), and AidaVita, a German line, formed by P&O, now owned by Carnival, now run by Costa, for a German clientele. The Aida Ships have painted hulls, with fat red lips and bulging eyes, looking more like huge tadpoles. We had a great production number by the Maasdam Cast, also known as the Cast of the Maasdam. Again, talent abounded. Another great showman, Ian Finkel, xylaphonist. It is nice that cruise lines in the Carnival family of ships can change acts in port, and do often, however, it deprives the passenger of repeat performances during the cruise, as happened with Ian, and others. St. Maarten, one of my favorites, was severely damaged two years ago, and many of the shops, hotels, the town beach were in ruin. Things have been very much built up - in fact, Phillipsburg has never looked better. Again, we were in with the Carnival Legend, Explorer of the Seas, and Caribbean Princess, all docked, with Christina Onasis yacht in the bay. The beach, once small and nondescript, is now broad, long and white, with a wide tiled boulevard which rings the sand. Two water taxi stands welcome visitors from the new pier, quite distant from the twon., Unlimited trips on the taxi cost $3.00US..New shops, old spruced up shops, hotels, restaurants all make for a great day ashore. Of course, there are beaches, and the French side of the island to visit. We found a little French place to have lunch, Le Petite Cafe, on Old Street, 3/4 down, on the right. It was clean, pleasant and very French. English is spoken, US funds accepted. Lunch was 2 crepes, stuffed with chicken, boursin and walnuts, wrapped up, a small green salad with oil and vinegar, two iced teas (from France) for $18.00US..filling, good and fun. If you walk back to the water taxi, listen up for $1.00 beers - yes, a buck a beer, or soda. Sit at a table, or under a palm tree and enjoy. The repeaters party was nice. We applauded several passengers, enjoying over 300 days with HAL. Now, for the BEST NEWS: the Captain announced that HAL will build FOUR MORE SHIPS! Larger than Maasdam, or Statendam Class, and SMALL than Vista Class, or smaller than Zuiderdam and Westerdam. Designs are being drafted now, and construction will begin next year. Well, I wanted to keep you posted on the COMPLAINTS I heard from other passengers. Let me say, that, I met people that drove to Norfolk from Omtatio, Minnesota, all over New England - and those that flew in from all over - and those that took HAL buses from DC, Baltimore and Delaware. I did not hear one complaint during the entire cruise. The 2006 season from Norfolk has been announced, 10 and 11 days. I can not wait!    

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Oct 16, 2004

Eastern Canada and New England

I flew into Montreal a day early and enjoyed seeing part of the city. Boarded the ship and everything went smoothly. The ports were interesting. I really enjoyed Charlottetown and Anne of Green Gables. New London, Conn. really made everyone feel very welcomed. A shuttle took everyone to a renovated depot where we were served complimentary coffee and sweet rolls. We did a walking tour and found it easy to follow the map. The food was

wonderful and our waiter and asst. waiter were very well trained. Our cabin boy always supplied us with clean towels,shampoo and lotion. The entertainment was fair. My disappointment came on the first night when I found out there were no dance hosts. When I booked this cruise(while on the Volendam in November) I was told there would be dance hosts. The consultant called Seattle and we thought Holland America stood by their advertisements of providing hosts on 14 day cruises. I had encouraged two of my friends to book this cruise telling them how Holland America provided dancing for single ladies. I was very disappointed to learn there were no hosts provided. No one on board ship could give a reason. I called Seattle on my return home and talked to a young man in customer relations. He took my name and e-mail and assured me he would get back and let me know the reason for no hosts. So far I haven't heard a word from Holland America. I have a 14 day cruise booked January 15 to the Southern Caribbean. If there are no dance hosts on this cruise I will never book a cruise with Holland America again.  

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Aug 28, 2004

New England/Canada

PREFACE The travelers: Two women, widowed, one approaching retirement, the other already there. We've both cruised before (HAL, Royal Olympic, Carnival, Celebrity and Princess). The Maasdam was our choice for this cruise because it embarked from Boston where we wanted to spend some pre-cruise days touring the city. PRE- AND POST-CRUISE ARRANGEMENTS Because travel was within North America, we made our own travel arrangements. Teresa and

I live in different states and flew separately to Boston. Our plan was to meet at the hotel on Wednesday evening, spend Thursday and Friday touring the city and then taxi to the port on Saturday. We did purchase HAL transfers from the port in Montreal to the airport for our flights home. BOSTON We wanted accommodations that would be more or less centrally located in the city. Teresa placed a successful bid on Priceline for three nights, and we stayed at the Hyatt Downtown in the financial district. Boston is an easy city to tour by walking and we did a lot of it. We purchased Go Boston Cards on-line (www.GoBostonCard.com) to take advantage of free or reduced rate admissions to many city attractions. On Thursday, we began touring by first riding the Beantown Trolley to get an overview of Boston. Later, when we were weary from on-foot exploration, we took a Boston Duck Tour using the Card. Most of Friday was spent using the audio guide (available in the Visitor’s Center in Boston Common) to follow the Freedom Trail. Our transfer to the ship on Saturday was flawless. Following hotel check out 11:30, the bellman loaded our luggage into a taxi and fifteen minutes (and $11 plus tip) later, we were portside. Luggage was turned over to a baggage handler, and we proceeded to check in where there was no line. Less than five minutes later we boarded the ship, had our first photo taken and were standing in line for lunch in the Lido at noon! It just doesn’t get any better or easier! THE SHIP Many cruise reviews include a description of the ship, public areas, cabin accommodations, general décor and food quality and presentation. These criteria are less important to me than the itinerary and experience in each port of call. To summarize in a few words, the ship is attractive although some wear and tear was evident in the cabin, the crew is attentive, and I didn’t lose any weight. The dining room dinner schedule has been modified from two to four seatings: Two early (5:45 and 6:15) and two main (8:00 and 8:15). Seatings one and three were in the upper dining area, two and four in the lower. Since our excursions were generally in the morning and our afternoons before sailing were spent shopping or relaxing on the ship, we chose early seating. This made it possible for us to attend shows or other evening activities and still get a good night’s sleep before the next day’s activities began. Since our shore excursions began shortly after docking, we ate breakfasts in the Lido. Lunches on days we had excursions were eaten in the Lido as well. On our one sea day, we ate breakfast and lunch in the dining room. OUR CABIN Our cabin was midship, port side on Veranda Deck (9). Cabin appointments were comparable to those of similar class ships: king bed split into two twins, a settee and coffee table, television with remote control, vanity and stool, a chair, mini-bar and refrigerator. The bathroom is equipped with a hair dryer, Jacuzzi tub/shower, electrical outlet for a razor and retractable clothes line. There is an electrical outlet at the vanity, but I neglected to take an adaptor and my hair dryer’s plug did not fit into the available outlet. ON-BOARD ACTIVITIES AND ENTERTAINMENT There were many daytime shipboard activities, but shore excursions and port shopping curtailed our taking part in them. Beyond the Production and Filipino Crew Shows, evening performances in the Rembrandt Lounge included musician/comedian David Levesque and ventriloquist/comedian Mike Robinson. David also did two afternoon enrichment programs, one on the history of the Atlantic Provinces and another on the “Art and Science of Navigation”. SHORE EXCURSIONS We have booked private driver/guides for port tours in Europe and now prefer this method to taking ship-sponsored tours. However, we found no interest on the part of other Maasdam passengers who read the cruise message boards to join us for private tours on this cruise. As a result, Teresa and I booked only Bob MacLintock ( http://tourbytaxi.com ) for HALIFAX, willingly “biting the bullet” if we had to split the charge rather than divide it four ways. Fortunately a mother and daughter at our dinner table were interested the day’s itinerary and elected to share the day (and cost) with us. Bob began with a quick tour of Halifax (including the Citadel and the cemetery where many of the Titanic victims are buried) before heading to Peggy’s Cove, around Margaret’s Bay, Mahone Bay (where we stopped for a quick lunch) and Lunenberg, a particularly quaint town with many interesting buildings. Bob shares information about the area, has a quick sense of humor and is willing to stop for picture-taking as often as he’s asked. His “tour by taxi” is a great alternative to taking a ship’s excursion. Our other tours were ship-sponsored: BAR HARBOR – Acadia National Park (2.5 hours - $29) A scenic drive with stops along the way to enjoy the views and take pictures. SYDNEY – We had originally scheduled Scenic Cabot Trail, but the ship’s late departure from Halifax necessitated the cancellation of this tour. We were able to switch to the Bras d’Or Lakes Grand Tour in its place (7.5 hours - $99). It was an enjoyable day which included a stop for a buffet lunch, short ferry ride, and visit to model Scottish village c1790 to 1900’s. CHARLOTTETOWN – Island Drive and Anne of Green Gables (4 hours - $44) There’s plenty to see without the stop for AGG. It would be my wish that these could be separated into TWO tours, one with AGG and one without. QUEBEC CITY – City Tour & Montmorency Falls (3.5 hours - $39) If you’ve been to Niagara Falls, there’s no need to visit Montmorency Falls. Spend as much time as possible in Upper and Lower Towns. Both are quaint, interesting areas. MONTREAL – A City Tour (about 3 hours - $39) is available to passengers who purchase transfer from the ship to the airport and whose flights don’t leave until midafternoon. We drove through the city and some ethnic communities and made stops for photographs at St. Joseph’s Church and a city overlook. SUMMARY HAL’s cruises have never disappointed me. The ships, even if aging, are always clean. On-board activities for those who like to be busy are abundant. The crew is always courteous. Food is plentiful and appetizing. Our most recent cruises have been to European ports. While we enjoyed them, this time we wanted to stay closer to home. The New England/Canada itinerary was one that appealed to us for time of year and cost. During the cruise, we enjoyed some ports so much that we would have liked more time to tour, particularly the ports of Halifax, Charlottetown, and Quebec City. Since that probably isn’t possible due to the distance that must be covered between ports, Teresa and I may someday return to tour independently by car at more leisurely pace. But understanding that a cruise like this one to New England and Canada is able to offer only a sample of scenery and local life, the Maasdam cruise met our expectations.  

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Jun 19, 2004

New England/Canada

The Canada/New England cruise aboard the Maasdam is a delightful, relaxing vacation. We arrived at the Boston cruise terminal at 11AM after a short taxi ride from the airport. (The Big Dig is almost finished and it is a big improvement over the old road system.) We were given a number and at 11:30, as advertised, they began early embarkation. We were in the second set of numbers called; there were virtually no lines at check-in and we

were in the Lido eating lunch by noon. This was the easiest embarkation by far that we have ever had. At 1:20, they announced that we were free to go to our cabins. We had taken advantage of an email offer and had upgraded to a Veranda suite, which was very spacious. As we have already sailed on the Maasdam, we refamiliarized ourselves with the ship and made our reservations at the Pinnacle Grill. We had preordered the Pinnacle Grill for the first night ($10 per person instead of the normal $20) and simply had to get a time for dinner. The food, service, and presentation at the Grill were outstanding. The Maasdam has previously been described very well and we won’t repeat the narrative. One point that we will make is that the space per passenger is very generous and nowhere on the ship did we feel crowded. We prefer the smaller cruise ships to the larger megaships. The service was truly friendly and outstanding. Almost the entire crew would greet you with Good Morning/Afternoon, How are you?, What did you do today? There has been no drop in service since HAL instituted the automatic tipping policy. The food in the Rotterdam Dining Room or the Lido was almost as good as the Pinnacle with great variety (my wife loves their stewed apricots and musceli for breakfast and was very disappointed on an earlier Carnival cruise that they were not offered). The entertainment has improved over the years with HAL. The three production song and dance shows were very well done and had excellent costumes. Other performers included a comedian, and ventriloquist/comedian, and an impersonator/singer. By coincidence, this was the third time we had seen the ventriloquist over the last four years on two different HAL ships so his routine was old-hat to us, but others liked it. Our teenaged daughter participated in the Club HAL activities (mostly right before dinner and at night) and had a lot of fun. This cruise had fewer children than most Caribbean cruises at this time of year, but the activities were well planned and available. This was her first cruise as a teenager and she appreciated the greater freedom given the older group. The first sailing day was spent at sea allowing passengers to familiarize themselves with the ship. The first port was a call at Oak Bluffs (Martha’s Vineyard), MA. It is tendered with an early departure. We strolled around the town to see the original Coney Island carousel and the old Methodist revival village with Victorian cottages. The second port was Portland, ME. We took an independent trolley tour of the city and the Portland Head Lighthouse. Two very nice advantages of this cruise compared to many of the Caribbean cruises are that the docks are all within walking distance of the cities/towns and that in each case, the Maasdam was the only ship in port so the towns are not overwhelmed with passengers. The next port was Saint John, New Brunswick. The local people go all out to great their guests. Each woman/girl is given a long-stem rose and each man/boy is given a lapel pin. They even have a glee club singing on the pier. We went to the New Brunswick Museum, a short walk from the ship. Among other exhibits are a full whale skeleton and a mastodon skeleton. The only complaint here is that the ship has an early departure so we were rushed to return and could not see all that we would have liked. Halifax, Nova Scotia, was next. We took a taxi to the Citadel to avoid walking up the significant hill, but walked back down to the ship. The Citadel is definitely worth visiting, as is the waterfront. We had hoped to also see the Victorian Public Gardens, but were told that they had been damaged by a hurricane and would not reopen for a couple of weeks. The final port was Bar Harbor, ME – another tendered port. We took our only ship excursion – a tour of Acadia National Park with a horse-drawn carriage ride. We would highly recommend this excursion. Our only disappointment was that fog had rolled in and the view from Cadillac Mountain was limited. Debarkation went very smoothly. Since we were staying over an extra night, we opted for a later time and we were allowed to stay in the room until called. We were able to get a quick taxi to our hotel and were off to explore Boston. All in all, this was a very relaxing, fun cruise. We would recommend both the itinerary and the Maasdam.  

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May 22, 2004

New England

In our cruising experience, this was our twenty-fifth cruise together, with four others taken separately. This was a surprise, last minute (almost) cruise. We had not planned on this type of cruise for this year, especially since all the ports are within fairly reasonable driving distances from our home in New Hampshire. We received a "Special (geographically limited) Offer" from Holland America Lines, via e-mail notification, asking a

very good price, and including free transportation to Montreal. After a very short period of discussion, we contacted our capable travel agent, George, and we were ‘booked’ in no time. Due to the short interval prior to sailing date, we were required to make full payment within five days of when we booked. Yes, we could have driven to any, or all, of the port cities, but the allure of another cruise, and not having to pack and unpack and re-pack all week won out. Also, we had sailed on the Maasdam for her Inaugural Voyage in 1993 and we wanted to see how much she may have changed during the interval. This rationale is also known as, "Any excuse to take another cruise". Some of the details of our impressions are as follows: Travel to Montreal: As mentioned, HAL’s offer included complimentary transportation from Boston to Montreal. This was provided via tour bus, which left from an area adjacent to Boston’s Black Falcon Cruise Terminal, where this cruise was scheduled to disembark seven days later. The bus was less than full, so there was ample space to spread out, and it was easy to get up and move about the bus; much better than a full airplane. The drive took about six hours, including a snack stop (not complimentary, but no complaint from us). At the Canadian Border, an official came aboard the bus to check everyone’s identification documents; this took approximately 10-15 minutes and we were again on our way. On the trip North, we drove in and out of bands of rain; by the time we reached Montreal, the rain was only a memory, and the sun was shining. Since it was Saturday about noontime, with nice weather, there was a fair amount of foot and vehicular traffic in the port area, causing some congestion. The cruise ship terminal in Montreal is located in the midst of a very active waterfront area, for both tourists and local inhabitants. Embarkation: Once our bus arrived at the Cruise ship terminal in Montreal, we were dropped off at the door and our luggage was taken directly from the bus to our staterooms aboard the ship. We were directed to the end of a line, extending out from the terminal. From the time we started on line, until we had processed through the embarkation process took only about fifteen minutes. It was then on to the customary "Welcome" photos, and the photos that are encoded on your ship’s ID/key card. These second photos are part of the ship security system for tracking entrance and exiting the ship. Once on board, we were greeted by someone from the hotel staff, and assigned a steward to escort us to our stateroom. This is a remembered nicety from past cruises that is sadly missing on many mainstream cruise lines today. We dropped off our carry-on bags and set out to test our memories of the ship’s layout, and have some lunch. Lunch was provided in the Lido Restaurant on Deck 11, and consisted of HAL’s normal, efficient and tasty buffet. We had noticed that we were assigned to the second of the two Main (Late) Dinner seatings, in the Lower Level of the Dining Room, as we had requested. Once onboard, we decided that this might make for a rushed dinner in order to be on time for the nightly shows, we decided to see about changing our scheduled dinner time. A quick stop to see the Maitre d’ had us placed on the change list; we were told that the change would probably not be effective until the next evening. All of our luggage was delivered to our stateroom prior to the Life Boat Drill. Ship Particulars: The Maasdam, one of HAL’s Statendam Class of ships, was built at the Fincantieri Shipyards, Monfalcone (Italy) in 1993; she is 720 feet in length and 101feet wide, with a G.R.T. of 55,451 tons, and a Passenger capacity of 1266, carrying a crew of 560. The propulsion is Diesel Electric; there are 2 stabilizers; bow and stern thrusters obviate the need of tugs (in all but most severe conditions); top speed is 21 knots. Stateroom: We were on A Deck (4) cabin E746 (Outside Double, port side, just forward of midship). This category stateroom is just under 200 square feet in area. The beds were set up in queen sized configuration, as requested, and were quite comfortable. There were three full length closets, each providing the option to place a bar at a height to allow enough length for shirts/blouses, or pants hung over the bar of a suit hanger; they also offered the alternative of four fold down selves. A fourth closet contained the safe (used the magnetic strip of any credit card/driver’s license/library card, etc. to open and lock) on a mid height shelf and three other fixed shelves. There was ample room at the bottom of the closets even for all of Janet’s shoes; the desk/dressing table provided six large sized drawers, and the night stands each contained two smaller sized drawers ( the top drawer was outfitted with a lock). All in all, there was more than enough storage space, even for a couple who always brings more than necessary. There was no difficulty placing the empty suitcases under the bed. The bathroom was more than adequately sized and contained a tub/shower combination equipped with a hand held shower attachment. No problems with amount of hot water and/or pressure, at any time. There were storage shelves in the bathroom near the mirror, above the vanity, large enough to contain all of our toiletries. Air temperature in the cabin was easy to maintain/change, as desired. Wahyu, our cabin steward was most pleasant and willing to please, he had a special knack that the true professionals all seem to have of never being in the way, but always there when needed. He explained the workings of everything in the cabin and told us that he would personally see to having any malfunctions corrected. Everything was maintained to our preferences, and all the mechanical aspects of the cabin appliances functioned as intended. HAL also supplied bathrobes in each stateroom for passengers’ use. There was a slight amoun t of hallway noise discernible in the cabin, but nothing from adjoining cabins. Public Areas: This a size of ship that we really enjoy, with a passenger capacity of 1,266 and the only times we saw any real congestion was in Bar Harbor where we needed to tender ashore (when will people learn to follow directions?), and going to the Captain’s Reception. There also was some minor congestion in the area of the on-board shops when the tables are placed in the walkways for the sale promotions. In a sense of fairness, we need to note that we did not spend a lot of time taking notes in all the public areas. In most cases our opinions are based on casual observations while moving about the ship at different times of day/night. One point worth noting here, is that in all the public areas where we did spend any time, we noticed that they were extremely well maintained and kept scrupulously clean. Infirmary: Fortunately, we did not need to avail ourselves of the services provided in this area. At the Captain’s Welcome Aboard Party, two doctors were introduced; through onboard conversations and observations, we learned that there were also three nurses aboard for our cruise. One of the nurses left the ship to accompany a passenger, who had to be evacuated at one of the Pilot Stations, to a hospital. The nurse rejoined the ship at our next port; the passenger was reported to be fine and traveled home after a short stint in the hospital. Rembrandt Lounge: This is the primary showroom; it has fairly decent sight lines and acoustics. However, it is not set up like a land-based theater with fixed seating in terraced rows. This room has the older type design where there are some fixed in-place settees and some movable chairs, with minimal elevation from front to rear. This can cause some difficulty in transiting across the room. Cruise ship entertainment is not what draws us to cruising, but Ray does enjoy watching the dance routines ( an effort to relive earlier thespian days). The shows that we did attend were fine; nothing outstanding, but enjoyable. This is also the venue for port talks and home to "Bingo!" Photo Gallery: Typical of most ships, there are rows of racks where photos are displayed, usually within hours of when they are taken. Holland America Line has gone the way of most others in that unwanted photos must be turned in at the Sales Desk to be discarded. This is a nuisance when there are lines of passengers waiting to make purchases. It used to be very convenient to be able to place unwanted photos in "Discard" boxes. As a result, there are probably many passengers who now just leave unwanted photos on the rack, decreasing available viewing space. Front Office: Many recent reviews we have read, have castigated cruise lines for the unfriendly, and even surly, demeanor of folks working in this area. This was not our experience on this cruise, nor on most others that we have been on. The employees we encountered here were very professional and competent, with one exception (more later). As a matter of personal curiosity, why was the ‘Purser’s Desk’ appellation ever dropped? Is it an effort to make cruise ships even more like hotels? Wajang Theatre: A staple on most (if not all?) HAL ships (at least on the Statendam Class ships) this is a nice touch that seem appreciated by many passengers. Then again, maybe it is just the fresh hot popcorn (complimentary)! We are not big movie viewers (Sorry Hollywood), but we will occasionally attend a showing on a cruise, usually on a sea day, if it is a film that has piqued our curiosity. Watching the film in a real theatre is preferable to a semi darkened lounge. Oceaan Shops and Boutiques: Nothing special here; typical shops with sundries, cruise wear, souvenirs, jewelry, booze, etc. Janet likes to wander through; seldom buys. At various times through the cruise they set up tables for "Sale" items. Unfortunately, these are usually set up in high traffic areas. From a marketing standpoint, this makes sense, but from a passenger inconvenience point-of-view, this is an annoyance, in a nit-picking sort of fashion. Casino: No fancy name, just plain old Casino. Not an area we often spend much time, nor money, in. On the occasions when we did walk through, business did seem brisk and lively. On the Statendam Class ships, it is not necessary for passengers to travel through the casino when traversing the length of the ship from Dining Room to main show lounge. This is helpful, especially for those passengers who are highly sensitive to cigarette smoke. Card Room, Puzzle Corner, Library: The Puzzle Corner is a small room connecting the Card Room and Library. There are three tables set up with puzzles in various stages of completion. Passengers are free to stop by and work toward completing these, whenever they feel so moved. The Card Room usually had folks in there whenever we passed. The Library had a decent selection of books and some great chairs for snuggling down into to read and/or nap (both observed) in this quiet corner of the ship. Beauty Salon/Spa: Cannot comment on this area from personal experience. They did seem to offer a large selection of ‘Specials’. Everyday there was a new flyer left under our stateroom door extolling that, or the next, day’s featured ‘Special’. Gymnasium: Considering the age of the ship, a fairly comprehensive set-up. Never noticed a crowd. Alas, the gym is only open from 8:00AM to 9:00 PM. One will find the typical assortment of treadmills, bikes, stairsteppers, various adjustable machines and free weights. In addition to some free exercise programs (morning walk-a-mile, Ping-Pong tourney, golf putting, aerobics, step class, etc.), there are others (pilates, fitball, yoga) available for a ‘nominal’ fee. Sorry, we did not participate in any of these, and therefore do not know the actual fee. Crow’s Nest: This is HAL’s signature lounge located at the top of the ship all the way forward. Floor to ceiling windows and comfortable chairs make this an ideal location to observe the route of the ship, without being exposed to the weather. Of course, those of us who enjoy the wind in our face, miss that aspect of the voyage, if we choose to observe from this lovely lounge. This is also a good place to meet for a pre/post dinner cocktail and music. Late night this venue becomes the Disco. Dolphin Bar: Near the main pool and just outside the Lido Restaurant. Beside the seats at the bar itself, there are a number of tables, with umbrellas, and wicker chairs, located next to the bar. This is a nice location for an afternoon respite and to people watch. Explorers Lounge: A quiet intimate place during the day, except for the afternoon tea often held here. After dinner, there was a pianist, or a string ensemble playing light classical music each evening. The staff also served some chocolate ‘surprises’ there some evenings. Piano Bar: Most every evening, one could find a lively crowd here joining in with the talented piano player. This is a very interesting venue. The fabrics draped from the ceiling, over the seating banquettes, in the alcoves gives it a feel reminiscent of the tents in the Arabian desert. Ocean Bar: This was our favorite ’haunt’. We would usually stop in for pre-dinner cocktails and hors d’oeuvres, and some quiet music/dancing. After dinner, or show - if we attended, we would stop back for an after dinner drink, or night cap. We became very friendly with two servers from the Philippines early in the cruise and would often see them in various venues, prior to their evening stint in the Ocean Bar. The trio that provided the musical entertainment each evening were quiet good. The location, right off the Atrium, provided easy access to passersby who often stopped in. This was also the venue used most often for the seemingly constant, never-ending Art Auctions. Dining: As mentioned earlier, when we arrived on board, we decided to change our dining time to the earlier of the two "Main Seatings" in the Rotterdam Dining Room. This was handled very easily; we were seated at a table for six, but all week long there were only four of us at this table. Fortunately, all four of us meshed well with each other and we were often the last to be leaving the Dining Room after lingering over coffee and dessert, and stories of our day or life in the ‘real world’. So much for our strategy of getting out earlier to see the shows. But we were never rushed! We found the food to be of good quality and preparation, and the presentation very good. Holland America still has Wine Stewards in the Dining Room; unfortunately, this is no longer the case on all cruise lines. Breakfast and lunch in the Dining Room was open seating. At breakfast, the other options are Room service, or the buffet in the Lido Restaurant. On this cruise we did not eat any breakfasts, nor lunches, in the Dining Room. There was no special reason for this, it just worked out that way. We usually have at least a few of each in the Dining Room, since Janet is not a super fan of buffets. The buffets in the Lido were quite extensive, with the offerings well prepared and presented at different stations. There was usually little or no wait involved. Another non Dining Room lunch time option, besides Room Service, or the buffet, is the Terrace Grill (pool side) which served hot dogs, hamburgers, French fries, salads, tacos, etc. Pinnacle Grill: This is the Maasdam’s "fine dining" alternative (fee added) restaurant. We decided to give it a try on the second night of the cruise, since the next night would be the Captain’s reception. We made our reservation right after lunch on embarkation day, no difficulty in getting day and time we desired, also picked the table we wanted. We were promptly seated by the Restaurant Manager, and then waited about ten minutes to receive a menu and welcome from our waitress. She told us that she did not realize that the table where we were seated was her responsibility? There are only about twelve to fifteen smallish tables in this restaurant and four waiters/waitresses. After another ten minute wait, she brought over a cart displaying the various cuts of meat available, and she took our order. The assistant waiter brought out the bread, and the wine steward introduced himself and took our order. The assistant waiter brought out our soup/salads, and the waitress our entrees. Our waitress then disappeared (almost) for the next thirty to forty minutes. I said ‘almost’ because she was seen chatting with another waitress and customer at another table for a while. After finishing our entrees and staring at the near empty plates for some time, the assistant waiter finally cleared the table and took our dessert and coffee orders, and promptly served the coffee and dessert. Our waitress was passing by and we asked if we could have refills of our coffee cups; she replied, "Certainly" and left. After perhaps five to ten minutes, the assistant waiter stopped to ask if we needed anything further. We told him we were waiting for coffee refills, which he immediately served. A short time later he brought us our bill for the "fine dining" and the wine. Ray was not a happy camper by this time, and the Restaurant Manager was "not available" as we were leaving so there was no one to receive our complaint. Ray did stop by the next day to speak to the manager and inform him that the dining experience was very much short of "Fine", despite the food being excellent. The manager apologized and reviewed our reservation and told Ray that he (the manager) would speak to the server, and this should not have happened. This was our first experience with HAL’s Pinnacle Grill Service, and it definitely came up lacking. We will give it another try on our upcoming Oosterdam cruise. Other passengers that we spoke to did not have the same type of experience. Hopefully, this was a one-time aberation. Entertainment: This is not an aspect of a cruise that will usually determine whether or not we have a great cruise experience. We attended a couple of the headlined shows and they were fine, even if not anything spectacular. Beyond the usual production (song and dance) shows, there were comedians, magician/illusionist, and of course the Indonesian Crew Show ( a HAL tradition, alternating weekly with the Filipino Crew Show). The music in the various lounges/bars was very good., especially in the Ocean Bar. Overall Ambiance: We have been fans of the overall style of Holland America Line ships for a number of years. We do not get overly wrapped up in the carpet or drapery patterns or the harmony of the color schemes from deck to deck, and other such minutia. The overall feel of HAL has always been viewed by us as neither garish, nor boring, but comfortable and welcoming. For those looking for museum quality artifacts and paintings displayed about the ship, this ship will not be a disappointment. What we again found to be the case is that the entire crew that was unfailingly warm and friendly, whether they be Officers, service staff, or deck hands. Everyone would smile and exchange greetings, even if my assumptions are correct, that they did not always understand what was being said, due to language differences. One outstanding aspect of this cruise was the photography staff (never thought I would ever say that!). They were extremely professional, one might even say magical, since they managed to make us look good on a few occasions. They were at the gangway at each port stop, but were not "in-your-face" to pose. In the dining room, one of them was content to wait while we decided what groupings we might want. This is a far cry from the "smile... good bye" rushing one usually sees. The picture quality showed the care/professionalism. Tendering at the one port, where necessary, was handled well with minimal waiting, and the transfer from ship to tender to pier and return was handled with passenger safety and comfort as the guiding principle, despite the heavy fog as we approached Bar Harbor. Public address announcements were almost kept to an appreciated minimum. Of course, we tend to feel that all beyond a daily position and weather update, except for emergencies, is somewhat too much. While it has been a couple of years since we have last sailed with HAL, it was encouraging to see that there has not been any apparent deterioration in the high level quality of product and service we have experienced in the past. Concerning the exception to the competency of the Front Office staff mentioned earlier, no one that we spoke to in that department seemed to know what HAL’s policy is concerning Cabin Credit being offered for booking future cruises while on board. Since this was less than a ten day cruise, there was no "Future Cruise Consultant" on board. Subsequent to the cruise, we were able to ascertain the policy, and we were informed that while on board a HAL ship, a passenger can call directly to HAL’s Seattle office by merely dialing 7245 from their cabin telephone. Because of our wonderful experience on this cruise and the fond remembrances it revived, of past HAL cruises, we are anxiously anticipating our next Holland America Line cruise. If you would like to discuss any aspect of this review with us, please e-mail us at: [email protected]  

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Mar 18, 2004

Southern Caribbean

I am writing about our unfortunate experience with our recent cruise with Holland America on the Maasdam and to warn you of the perils of doing business with Holland America. We booked a cruise with Holland America to the Southern Caribbean. We specifically chose this cruise as it went to three destinations we had not visited before and which we wanted to visit, namely the Bahamas, Tortola and Guadeloupe. When we arrived on board ship,

we found (buried in the other papers) a notice of change of schedule. Specifically Guadeloupe and Tortola were off and replaced by Puerto Rico and St Kitts, two places that we had already visited and did not want to visit again. Along with many other passengers, we made a fuss but to no avail. (The Bahamas visit was later cancelled because of poor weather.) On-board investigation revealed that a few (but not many and not those who booked directly through Holland America) passengers had been informed of the change in schedule in advance, that Holland America had known about these changes for at least two weeks (we only booked around two weeks in advance, so they knew when we made the booking) and that the reason for the change was they had miscalculated the time it takes to get back from the final destination (St Thomas) to Norfolk, causing delays in turnaround time. In short, because of Holland America’s incompetence in planning travel time and deliberate withholding information about their schedule change, many passengers were sent to places that they had not chosen and did not want to visit. Other potential Holland America passengers may wish to consider this before booking a cruise.

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Mar 2, 2004

Southern Caribbean

March 2nd was a warm day and very windy. The Maasdam arrived into Norfolk Harbor very late, passengers were disembarking when we reported to the dock at 2pm., and the ship had not been provisioned. What serves as a "cruise ship terminal" is a air controlled tent, the kind often used for outdoor antiques shows or covering for tennis courts. It was an "adequate" arrangement. I was told by a longshoremen that indeed a new terminal will

be built. Rumors on the ship bore that up. It has been made public, however. We moved to Hampton Roads from Vermont, hoping to drive to Ft. Lauderdale for our cruises, rather than fly, and we did so last year. Not in my wildest dreams did I imagine that Holland America would homeport the Maasdam at Norfolk! Forty minutes away from Gloucester where we live. Four friends drove down from Vermont, and the six of use took a limo/van to the ship. We all booked an inside stateroom, with a guaranteed upgrade to an outside, which we all received. Our cabin was 728 on A deck. When we boarded we were escorted to our cabins and were greeted by Emador, Andy, as he preferred, our steward. He addressed us by our sir names, and welcomed us aboard the Maaasdam. The stateroom, as is the case of most newer ships staterooms, is pretty much the same, twin beds convert to a queen, the usual closets (very adequate), the dresser/desk and so on. The TV was old, a clunker, and the remote barely worked. There are refridgerators ONLY in the Verandah Suites. Our travel agent checked that out, and we agreed to rent one for $2.00 per day, and a brand new one was atop our desk. We had anticipated buying liquor in the duty free shop on board, thus, the use of a fridge. NO WAY. Not any longer. As of the start of our cruise, HAL forbade the purchase of liquor for state room use, and forbade bringing on board from shore, with all purchases held until the last day. This really ticked off a lot of passengers, complaints were loud and clear. On the other hand, we met some wonderful passengers in a suite, and THEY could have liquor, and availed themselves with the use of the new Neptune Lounge. The bath was tiled, floor as well as tub/shower surround. Water was hot, pressure was excellent. Concealed in the hair dryer is one power outlet. Storage space in the bath was not ample. There is a clothes line in the tub for drying bathing suits. There are two lauderettes on board, our friends used them. We chose, as we always do, to send our laundry out. $12.00 per bag, the bag holds a lot of laundry, which is returned with shirts etc on hangers, and foldables in a tissue lined basket, closed with a gold HAL seal. Very nice touch. Both bath and stateroom had excellent lighting. The sofa was a cozy spot for reading. Lower Promenade Deck offers the full wrap around teak promenade deck, replete with steamer chairs, and chair pads. This made up for the fact that we did not have a balcony, and spent hours there reading, napping and people watching. This is also the lowest or first, of the three decks that feature the Atrium. There is a bank of shinning brass escaltors here. Next up, Promenade Deck, forward, the lower level of the two deck high Rembrandt Lounge, the main show lounge, with canteleivered ceiling, thousands of Delft tiles, Bavarian stage curtain, half round stage, and tapestry lined walls. This is a mammoth sized room, however, with the selection of small sofas, chairs and and cocktail tables, it apears to be more intimate than it appears. Moving aft, is the photo gallery, shore excursion office and Pursers Ofice, which are off to the side of the Atrium. Also on this deck are the Wajang (Whyang) Theater, for movies and free popcorn, a room in a sea of Granny Apple green and black. There are two meeting meeting rooms, the Hudson and the Half Moon, neither of which were overly used during our cruise. A popular spot proved to be the Java Cafe, serving lattes, espressos and the like, with pricing betwee $2.75 to $4.75, and the place was always packed with passengers. Aft is the lower level of the two deck high Rotterdam Restaurant. This is a very regal room, with two sweeping grand stairways, which connect the two levels. One may enter from this deck or Upper Promenade, one is not made to use these stairs, and elevators unload at each level outside the entry doors. The grand room is highlighted by four huge coach-type lanterns at the celing of the upper level, with hundreds of frosted glass flower globes suspended from the ceiling. On the upper level one port, the other starboard, are a screens, hand painted, and forward, a balcony juts out into the open space above a three tiered fountain (filled with plants), which is used during dinner as a bandstand, with a trio playing. It must be noted: I have seen many reviews where upon passengers complain about tables being way too close together on some ships, that is not the case on the Maasdam. I found the tables to be so close on the uiderdam, our table for two was really a table for four! We had a table for six, number 109, first seating on his cruise. We were next to a large table which served an officer and passengers. Our wait staff was superb, our wine steward, Virgil, excellent. He had my Absolute Citrone waiting each night for me. By the way, Wine Enthusiast Magazine rates the wine cellar on all HAL ships as excellent. Next deck up, Upper Promenade, home to the upper levels of the Rotterdam Restaurant, and Rembrandt Lounge, the NEW PINNACLE GRILL, Piano Bar, Explorers, Lounge Ocean Bar, Casino and Shops. This is one lively deck. The Piano Bar is most interesting. The bar is merely a service bar, behind the cinnabar painted baby grand. The piano is surrounded by a bar with stools, above is a gold flecked mirrored ceiling, in front of which are two rroms, one smoking, the other non, which face the piano. Both rooms have tented ceilings, black mirrored walls with "stars" imbedded in the mirrors, and cinnabar and navy leather sofas and chairs. Further enhancing this unique room is a flattering picture of June Allyson, the Maasdam's Godmother, as well as three beautiful glass sculptures by Bernard Heeson, each encased in gold mosaic tiled niches, and other Heeson works of art are enclosed on shelves by the piano. The Ocean Bar, a hallmark on HAL ships, is a true clubbish comfy bar, with live music each night. There are smoking and non areas. The room offers exceptional ocean views. On the Vista Class ships, Zuiderdam et al, the Ocean Bar sits at the bottom of the Atrium, open to one and all, with no ocean view. I liked the decor of the room on the Zuiderdam, and never once ventured into the room, it is too open and not at all welcoming, which the OB certainly is on the Maasdam. The Casino has perhaps a tongue in cheek sense of humor, with the main entrance hjighlighted by a real canon and bucket of cannon balls. The "better shops" are located within the casino, the other shops around the Atrium. HAL has one of the finest logo shops of any ship I have sailed. The "DAM" logo items are quality items, and collectable, such as shirts, hats, aprons, mugs and the like. By "DAM", a mug reads: M dam - for Maasdam. The new Pinnacle Grill is on this deck, and will be reviewed later on. Plunging three decks down, is the crown jewel of the ship, the emerald glass sculpture - it is awesome, day and night, and is centered in t he Atrium. It cost $250,000.00, and was made in Italy. Next up is the Navigation Deck, housing the Verandah and the aft Navigation Deck pool, which is wonderfully open the sea and sky, and teak decked. In fact, there is no smelly, soggy astro turf used on any HAL ship. The passenger capacity has been reduced on the Maasdam, to 1258, and for the cenvenience of the Verandah Suite passengers, the NEW Neptune Lounge was built last fall, nearly mid-ship, for the those passengers. The lounge has floor to ceiling windows, and anyone may look in, and see it is a handsome room, with gold and navy touches. Up to Lido Deck, the Lido pool is midships, with a retractable Magradome, the nice Holt dolphins cast in bronze at the pool, and the Dolphin Bar, which serves the pool area. A small bandstand is permanent for the ships excellent steel band. The taco and burger stands are here as well. Also on Lido Deck are the Ocean Spa, which looked to be quite adequate, the Beauty Salon, Video Arcade (new) and Lido Restaurant, which will be covered later on. Sports Deck finds the Crows Nest Bar, another hallmark for any HAL ship, and the NEW Wave Runners/Club HAL for kids. The crows Nest serves as a late disco, howver, the DJ walked out and never returned on occasion, and this is the only spot on the ship where a "lack" of interest in serving the passenger was noted. The bar girls stayed in a corner looking at their nails and ignored the passengers, and the bar tender made it quite clear he would take his time doing what he was supposed to do. This of course, sent passengers down to the other public rooms. The Pinnacle Grill was made from the old Kings Lounge and video area, ripped out last fall, and built anew. You would think it had always been there, the job was that good. The ceiling is suspended, with frosted "waves" of glass, suggesting ice flows. There are no draperies, just picture windows looking out to sea. Dark paneling lines the walls, and between the windows are beautiful glass sculptures, by an artist that was unknown on board - could they have been Heeson's? The menu is good, could be expanded in my opinion. Thick staks, chops, beautiful racks of lamb are displayed each night by the entrance, under a dome of glass. Other selections are ciopino, which I had, and enjoyed to the fullest, as well as huge lobster tails. Service was exceptional, the wine steward did a very unobtrusive job perfectly. The fee here is $20.00 per person, includes the tip. One item that I was impressed with was the potatoes boulanger, which I have made for years, and have never had outside my own home, which was served in the Pinnacle Grill. For all intents and purposes, however, the qality, and presentation and menu selection in the Rotterdam Restaurant is on a par with the Pinnacle Grill. The Grill seats 64. If one does not care to dine here, take a peak, the room is really nice. Another fabulous place to eat is the Lido, which serves breakfast, "brunch", lunch and casual light dinner (for those refusing to adhere to the evenings dress code), as well as the replaced midnight buffet, the late snack. Breakfast is spectacular, a true morning feast, with omelets cooked to order, eggs cooked to order, bacon, sausages, turkey bacon, incredible breads, pancakes, waffles, hot and cold cereals, fresh melons, pineapple, papaya, bananas, fresh squeezed orange juice, guava, cranberry, tomato and apple juices, a selection of sliced cheese, and the piece de resistance, the awesome smoked salmon section. Freshly sliced, nicely plated smoked salmon, in abudance, kept comming, along with hard on the outside, soft on the inside, fresh bagels, tons of cream cheese, sliced onions, capers and cubed tomatoes. Unreal. This is a class act, and far superior to any smoked salmon offering I have seen on any other ship, except, it is always superior an a HAL ship. I must also mention, you may have a shrimp omelet. Lunch, oh, goodness! There is a deli, with sandwich of your choice, made to order, a pasta station, featuring two different pastas and sauces each day, a carving station, featuring roast beef, turkey breast, rotisserie chickens, roast lamb, with at least three veggies, a variety of potaot dishes, two soups, plus an enormous salad bar, huge bowls of various slaws, potato and pasta salads, an Asian stir fry area it goes on and on....AND, for dessert, Oh, my gawd! Cookies and decadent, delicious cakes, bars, pies, a featured pudding, be it rice or a varied bread pudding, and the ice cream parlor. Unlike other ships, the ice cream parlor offerings are free. Here is how I spent my dessert time after lunch. There are two standard flavors of hand packed ice cream, two frozen yogurts, soft serve, one sherbert, and one sorbet, served either in large waffle cone, or as many scoops as you wish in a dish, to which you may add, spriknkles, crushed pineapple, bananas foster, butterscotch sauce, real hot fudge, marsmallow, green creme de menth, cherry brandy, whipped cream, or fresh strawberrys, ripe red raspberries or fresh blueberries. That was such a treat. In addition, there are no sugar added desserts as well. We ate all lunches at the Lido, and tried the Rotterdam Restaurant once for breakfast, and we were not impressed with the Eggs Benedict, nor the omelet served there. We did dine each night in the Rotterdam Dining Room, with the exception of the dinner at the Pinnacle Grill. One could easily order a seven course meal in the Rotterdam Restaurant. From apaetiser to cheese board. I enjoy duckling, and it was offered on three occasions, each prepared using different recipes, the Peking style duck was more than satisfying. Unlike ducks from cruises past, the ducks were plump, and not scrawny. Cracked crab legs were offered, farm raaised venison, an excellent veal noisette, rack of lamb, mussels, oysters, lobster, and so many other top-notch menu items. One quibble, HAL is noted for the "Wedge", a salad of heart of iceberg lettuce, topped with a chunk of blue cheese. Thats the whole salad. On this cruise, the blue cheese was a thin cloudy dressing, served in a ramekin. Oh, well. The other venues for stuffing oneself, 24 room service, fast and very extensive, including shrimp cocktail and a small steak, special menu for those under the weather, and even fresh squeezed orange juise in the morning, all room service trays are covered with a frette linen cloth, hotel silver is used, and everywhere on the ship, china, no plastic, melamine or paper plates are used, nor is plastic eating utensils used. There are tywo featured pizza's each day, and they may also be ordered through room service. The ports were fine, except for Point au Pitre, Guadleoupe, which is a typical French outpost, filthy, open sewer stench, even a dead rat in the gutter in front of a brasserie. Our friends from Vermont were petrified. I have been here before, and I have even eaten on the island, I THINK never again. Dominica is a real gem, a treaure of a place. There are NO BEACHES HERE. None, nada, zip. You may book an excursion from the ship, or you may do as we did, higher a van and see the island. We hired Lennox, also known as Chawly, from his soccer days, for $20.00 per person, for five hours. We enjoyed his good humor, and If you go, due ask for him. We saw the falls, and the climb is not for everyone, there is a resting place, while others go along, and will meet up with you on the return. I did half of the trek, my legs ached for days!! I am in good shape, and garden, yet, this was a grind even for me. Tortola, again, a beauty, with good beaches. Again, if you wish, hire a taxi/van, set your price, go to the beach, and pay the driver WHEN HE RETURNS TO PICK YOU UP at the beach. Barbados, one of our favorites, seems to be home to more KFC's than any place I have sen. We hired a van, and went to a resort. Our driver told us outright not to waste our money buying anything on the island, as there is a mark up, PLUS 15% VAT added. He says he shops in St. Thomas at Tommy Hilfigger and K Mart there. Indeed, he had on a Tommy shirt, Tommy jeans and Tommy sneakers and a Tommy belt! One safely dine in Barbados, at a beach resort, but not at vendors street side. The Maasdam was one of six ships in Barbados. Another one, anchored out in the harbor was the arrested European Visions, seized and in bankrupsy, of First European/Festival Cruises. There were seven cruise ships at St. Thomas. The joke of the morning was "what is St. Thomas like with 30,00 people belched ashore?" Well, typically St. Thomas, bubbly, crowded, and not very much different as it usually is. It took forever to get passengers off the ship, we were docked in the outer harbor, beyond Frenchmens Reef. The Radisson Diamond was out there with us. The seas were outrageous, and getting into/out of the tenders was horrific. Topping that off, we had to be back on board by 2:15pm for a 3:00pm sailing. The big girls tied up the Havensight Pier, Golden Princess, Explorer of the Seas and Costa Atlantica. The Disney Magic was in the inner harbor, and what an attractive ship she is. Our captain canceled Half Moon Cay, due to rough seas. To compensate, all passengers had their ships account credited $13.22 for unused port fees, and both first and second seating passengers were treated to a one hour, complimentary, cocktail party, whereby, the passenger ordered what they wished, as much as they wished. No pre-mades here. Another nice touch, was the Mariners Party, for repeaters, held in the afternoon, with hot and cold appertizers, Bloddy Marys, Mimosas, or plain orange juice, and some people oreded what they wished, and they got what they ordered. The Bloodys were perfect. Over half of the ship were repeaters. We were aacknowledged for having over 25 days with HAL. There were dozens receiving their medal for 100 days, there were 200, 300, 600 day passengers. We have looked far and wide for a replacement for our dearly loved Royal Viking Line and Home Lines. We feel we have found it with HAL. There is a familiar feel among all HAL ship, even in the New Vista Class ships. Be it the crew, a general theme that pervails in the overall decor, it certainly is moticed in the overall crew - whatever it is, it is alive and well on the Maasdam. Many reviews note the "nickel and diming" found on other lines ships. I did not find it so last year on Zuiderdam, nor on the Maasdam. Sure, the photos are now priced way out of line, BUT people do buy them myself included. $34.00 for "your cruise" video, well, after reviewing it, and seeing our little group and our new friends featured throughout, it was worth the price. I think "nickel and dimed" passengers are the complainers, and I have seen my share, yet very few on this cruise, with the exception of changing the in-stateroom liquor policy. Lets get ready for another MAJOR CHANGE. Starting in May, HAL's tradition, "no tipping required" is to BE DROPPED. Yup, $10.00 per person, per day, will be automatically added to your ships account, before you even you board the ship. We tip, generously, above the no tipping rule. But! we saw what this policy did to Princess, a why give service, if its pre done attitude, by most of the crew. I hope and pray this is not the case on HAL. That a pretty bitter pill to swallow. Many reviews mention the "cut backs" in food, service and the like. Each evening, in each bar and lounge, pre-dinner hors' de ouverves are served, live music fills the lounges, an extensive room service menu is provided, each night in the Rotterdam Restaurant a featured flambed dessert is offered, I watched the head waiter prepare them each night, the Baked Alaska on Parade is still done, a true sea tradition (a sparkler is used, not an open flame). If one thinks HAL is cutting back or skimping, one needs only sail with them. It is what cruising was like twenty years ago. Ocean and Cruise News has again awarded Holland America Line the first for value and excellence, and 10 of HAL's ship are in the top 15 ranked world-wide by Ocean and Cruise News, and ranked number one cruise line by Conde Nast for its distinction for the large ship class. You don't marks like these for nothing. It takes dedication and a lot of hard work. Incidently, Holland America has made a commitment to further enhance its fleet, by spending $250,000.00 to upgrade the Statendam Class ships, the Statendam, Maasdam, Ryndan and Veendam. While we were on our cruise, we got a new ice bucket, new coffee makers at the Lido were installed and the promise of Eurpean linens in on the way. What a wonderful product HAL is. Now, maybe we can have a fridge in the staterooms? Ours was a new Haier, a brand from China - we have a wine fridge, a Haier, at home. I found the same little fridge we rented on the Maasdam, at Target. We hate leaving our ship, ports to us are a pleasant diversion. I mean it when we say we cano not wait to get back on board the Maasdam, espcially from Norfolk. We met so many wonderful people, and had such a great crew, we were all in tears at the Dolphin Lounge when we finally got called to clear the ship.

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Feb 21, 2004

Eastern Caribbean

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 entrée, 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 flambé, which included bananas foster, crepe suzette, pear flambé, 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 Café, 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 café 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 my 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.

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Jan 4, 2004

Western Caribbean

There are not enough accolades to describe this cruise. We found the Activities staff exceptional! They were approachable and fun! There were numerous activities and my husband and I took advantage of many. We never got involved before but the staff was so pleasant and convincing. We had a blast! We met several people with whom we still correspond that we met during our daily trivia. The only disappointment was we spent several

hours building our ship and entered the ship building contest. We combed the islands for just the right things. Our ship held the required 6 pack of coke that floated on one of the hot tubs (:. However, a couple of young children entered the contest. The vote was determined by applause. The children won): Our only suggestion is that they have a adult and a children's category. We participated in the talent show etc, etc. The assistant activities director was AWESOME! We want to revisit this ship so we will be able to see her again. The food was great! We especially enjoyed the Lido Deck for a more casual dinner. The food was just as good. PS Don't try the danish and raisin bread I'm still trying to lose the extra pounds. They were deadly (: We had a wonderful time and recommend it to everyone! Happy Cruising

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Nov 9, 2003

Western Caribbean

Special thanks to all the staff on the Maasdam. I brought 14 of my staff for a week of our lifetimes - and it exceeded our expectations!!! Brad and Mike from Lido deck - thanks for all your support and smiles. DJ James - thanks for bumping our songs to the top of the list. Wendy - Ass't crusie director - you should have been the Director - great energy - anytime you want a job - look me up! Great food - room service was very understanding

of our nightly pre-dinner functions. Rooms were clean - ship was kept up to date even though was an older ship - pleasant surprise! Michael from the show - thanks for the energy! Captain (Van der loo)- sorry we never made it to your private invite - but thanks for making us feel special with your smiles!

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Jun 12, 2003

Inside Passage - Alaska

My husband and I have just returned from an Alaskan cruise on board Holland America’s Maasdam. This was our first Holland America cruise together (my husband has sailed the line in a previous life!), however, we have also cruised Princess, Celebrity, Carnival, and now bankrupted Renaissance. Even at about 10 years old, the ship is beautiful, and elegant. Fresh flowers are everywhere, and the staff provides excellent service. In general,

we very much enjoyed the experience; however, there were areas which could stand improvement, most notably, in the dining room. But to that later…. We arrived the night before our June 12 roundtrip Vancouver sailing, and stayed at the Listel Hotel, conveniently located on Robson, one of the main avenues in central Vancouver. After a cab ride from the airport ($30 Canadian) that night, we arrived to find a comfortable room. The entire hotel is non-smoking, which pleased us, but we had a “back alley view”, based probably on our low internet room rate. The following morning, we had a pleasant, but somewhat pricey breakfast in the hotel’s restaurant, O’Douls. Walking a few blocks down Robson, we found a city sightseeing trolley stop, spoke to the folks selling the tickets ($26each Canadian), and decided to spend the next 2 hours getting acquainted with Vancouver. The trolley makes 15 stops, allowing passengers to get off and on to explore. The complete circuit is narrated by the bus driver, so while we didn’t get off, we did learn much about Vancouver, and spent a very enjoyable couple of hours prior to boarding the ship. Embarkation Around 2:30pm we took a quick cab ride from our hotel to Canada Place, the main cruise terminal. We moved through the terminal’s security to the Holland America embarkation area and were handed a number, a SARS form, and a debarkation form to fill out. Once completed, we were directed to one of many check-in lines. The process was quick, and the representatives were helpful. We had completed our immigration forms on-line, but since the “web” line was very full, we were re-directed quickly to another line where we waited for only about 5 minutes before reaching the desk. Our cruise documents were checked, and we were handed an identification card with bar coding. This would be used both for electronic checks when leaving or returning to the ship, as well as for on-board purchases. A separate room key was provided in the cabin. We also went through immigration quite quickly and went on board. We were greeted graciously by an officer, as a string quartet played lovely music just a few feet from the gangway. We were personally escorted to our cabin, 173, on Verandah Deck. Cabin We traveled with two other couples and all of us booked balcony cabins, noted as a “mini-suite” in the brochure. In fact, it’s a slightly larger than average cabin with a spacious sitting area and balcony. The balcony had a chaise lounge, and based on other balcony cabins we’ve had, it was the same width, but twice the depth. Another chair and small table was provided to complete the outdoor space. Even though it became quite chilly outside during the cruise, we used the balcony often, both during the day and during those long twilights in Alaska. The bathroom was very large for a cruise ship, due to the bathtub that is part of all outside cabins on the ship. No claustrophobia here…and the shower curtain actually stays where it should if you turn around in the shower! I would recommend taking your own hairdryer. The one provided might be good for the guys, but definitely not for the gals. We asked for the twin beds to be pushed together, and, believe it or not, it was hard to find where the divide was. The beds were firm, linens soft, and pillows as we like them. We were surprised to see a small vase of fresh flowers on the table in the sitting area, and quickly found the Holland America signature tote waiting as a gift. Everything was spotless, although on closer inspection, the carpet had probably seen better days. Our steward did yeoman’s duty keeping the cabin in great shape. My husband particularly liked the shoe shine service, while I appreciated the abundance of drawer and closet space. The cabin safe is operated with your own credit card, so no worries about that. We also used the laundry service ( $12.00 total for a full bag) and received our laundry back in a beautiful basket, folded in tissue, and delivered by a uniformed bellman. The most elegant laundry delivery we’ve had!! Dining There were several dining options; however, after trying several, our group enjoyed most of our meals in the beautiful 2-level Rotterdam dining room. Although there were six in our group, we were seated on the top level at a table for eight. A delightful couple from Tucson, Arizona joined us, and remained at the table, so I guess we did a good job making them feel comfortable joining our three couples. Overall the food was pretty good, but definitely inconsistent. By unanimous vote of our table, the fish was excellent, fresh and prepared perfectly, and the vegetables were done to our liking, crisp, not mushy. Beyond those two items, things got pretty average, pretty fast. No one at our table was served any type of meat which was done “as requested”. I tried Veal Oscar medallions one night early in the cruise. It was tough and tasteless. No matter who ordered meat, and whatever type of meat it was, the result was below par. We learned quickly to listen to the recommendations of our server, Jefferson, who never steered us wrong. After a couple of days, if he didn’t mention it, we didn’t order it!! Bread was average, except for delicious chocolate croissants, brought elegantly with other pastries in a wheeled, covered, silver cart each morning at breakfast. The “cart-guy” as we affectionately called him remembered on subsequent mornings not only what we liked, but our names as well. Great service touch. The pies and cakes were brought on board, prepared off-ship, and they tasted as such. Certainly not close to what we have experienced on other lines, and not the fun highlight of dinner. No one asked for seconds, or to “try” something else. If we ordered something else, it was because our original choice was not good. One of our group had the experience, in fact, of ordering “hot apple pie” and it was served still frozen! Unbelievable, but true!! We ate in the Lido dining venue several times. Standard buffet fare for breakfast, interesting entrees for lunch, and dinner offered entrees appearing in the dining room. Most notable were a great salad bar, and the infamous ice cream/frozen yogurt bar. Long lines cued at lunch and dinner service for several different flavors, toppings and cookies. There is also an outdoor grill for hot dogs and hamburgers, and the terrific Café Java where you can order a cappuccino, espresso, or coffee made fresh all day, free of charge. Although we didn’t use it very much, the couple of times we used Room Service, it was quick and accurate. We were surprised at how extensive the room service menu was on Holland American compared to other lines we’ve sailed. Entertainment/Activities The main entertainment on our 7 night cruise consisted of 2 song-and-dance shows with the Maasdam cast. The cast was energetic and worked hard at the shows, however, the voices of the two lead singers left a lot to be desired and the choreography seemed to come straight out of a high school production. We’ve been spoiled on other lines with excellent voices and dancers and more sophisticated shows that what we viewed. The first night entertainer was a singing impersonator. With the exception of a fairly decent Louie Armstrong, this guy was just plain bad. He seemed to have a pretty good voice, don’t know why he just didn’t do himself?? Fortunately, we only had to endure him one night. Later in the week, however, there was a terrific ventriloquist, who was very funny in a slightly bawdy way, and an excellent magician/comic who had everyone quite well-entertained. First run movies were shown in-cabin and in the Wajang Theater, which was very comfortable. There were several good musical groups, performing in various bars and lounges. Also, there was music each night in the dining room, which made for very nice ambiance. The ship had a typical complement of activities, including lectures by the on-board naturalist, a representative of the local Native Americans (wonderful lecture), and a Forest Ranger who came on board in Glacier Bay National Park with a slide show. Ports/Tours Our ship sailed to Juneau, Skagway, and Ketchikan, with a Forest Service narrated on-board day in Glacier Bay National Park. We understand we were very fortunate to have good, sunny weather most of the time, but did experience the Alaskan rain in Ketchikan, where they say it rains 80% of the days. It was pretty rough coming out of Vancouver where we hit gale force winds and had a pretty rocky ride for most of the first day at sea. The crew mentioned that it was the worst day they had experienced, but the green apples were everywhere ( they really work to get rid of the queasiness), and the sea-bands worked once more!! Our group pre-booked our tours over the internet from Holland American so we didn’t waste time in line on the ship. In Juneau, we had a sunny, beautiful day as my husband and I took the Whale and Wildlife Quest. This was a four hour catamaran tour where we saw a pod of Orcas, several humpback whale sightings, bald eagles, and sea lions. Very beautiful scenery and overall a good tour. Our friends booked the Mendenhall Glacier tour with a Salmon Bake. They enjoyed all very much. When we returned from the tour, we walked into Juneau from the pier, but were very disappointed. While the setting was beautiful, the town, close to the docks, is just another shopping opportunity. In Skagway, we all boarded the White Pass Scenic Railway for a narrow-gauge train ride following the route the gold-hunters followed a hundred years ago. The scenery, as in all Alaska, was just gorgeous, and again, we were fortunate to have a clear, bright day to view the gorges, mountains, and tundra. We took the train ride only one way ( sit on the left-hand side for the fantastic views) , and then had a bus ride back to the ship, with a stop at Liarsville, a recreated village on the exact site of a mining camp of the early 20th century. There was a show put on by the folks there, and we were able to try our hand at panning for gold. A little hokey, but interesting and fun, was the consensus. Skagway is a great town, similar to Silverton in Colorado, with the real look of pioneer days. Lots of good shopping here. We didn’t book any tour through the ship for Ketchikan, but rather bought tickets on the docks. for a city tour. We enjoyed the tour with it’s included visit to Saxman Village to see reproduced Totem poles. Even though these are replicas, they are fantastic. One caution, our “independent tour” ( read: non-cruise ship sponsored) did not include any entertainment ( tribal dance exhibition) at the Village longhouse, nor did it allow us to go inside the building at Saxman where they carved the totem poles. However, we were able to see the carving activity from a wall of windows at the back of the building, so we didn’t miss anything other than being able to ask questions of the carvers, etc. In Ketchikan, we ate lunch at the New York Café, near the docks, and enjoyed it very much. Like Skagway, it’s a picturesque town with pretty good shopping. One note: if you have time in Vancouver, travel across town, as we did after the cruise, to the campus of the University of British Columbia, where the Museum of Anthropology, holds a super collection of the original Totems. It’s an architecturally beautiful museum with many, many artifacts from cultures around the world on display. Tipping We were genuinely surprised that we only heard a few words on tipping. During the debarkation talk, the cruise director (the terrific Sabrina Robison) read a brief statement that tipping was not required on the line. Envelopes were provided at the front desk, but there were no “guidelines”. We did tip our waiters and cabin stewards the amount we have normally tipped on other lines. We also tipped our terrific wine steward, who took very good care of us all week. On another note, no gratuity is added to the bar tab, either. Debarkation We enjoyed that fact that bags didn’t have to be in the hallway until 1 am. On our last night, we were able to enjoy dinner, and the last show without having to be rushed to have bags out of the cabin early. The debarkation was done quickly and efficiently. After the cruise, we had a couple of days to enjoy Vancouver. One day we took an all-day Grayline tour to Victoria. We explored doing this on our own, but the logistics are not worth the hassle for the small difference in total cost. We enjoyed the day, had a very informative and funny bus driver, but about half of the time was traveling. It is about 40 minutes to the ferry terminal, 1 ½ hours each way on the ferry, (a great ride with beautiful views of small islands) and another 30 minutes from the ferry terminal into Victoria proper. We visited the beautiful Butchart Gardens ( 2-hour stop) , which was well worth the travel, but by the time we got to Victoria, we were ready for a rest!!! It is a lovely small city, with lots to do, so, if we had to do it again, we would book an overnight tour to Victoria, so we could enjoy more than the 2 ½ total hours we spent in the city. Long day, to say the least. Overall, we enjoyed ourselves on land and sea, and would travel on Holland America again.

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May 22, 2003

Alaska Inside Passage

I recently returned from another Alaskan cruise adventure, having survived travel horror stories about SARS, terrorists, mad cow disease, and both the Norwalk and West Nile viruses. Monkey pox wasn’t yet a breaking story. How I ended up going back to Alaska is a story all its own. I consider myself to be the “Accidental Alaska Tourist”. After cruising to Alaska with a group of friends and taking a cruise from Tampa to Cozumel

with my sister, I decided to try one by myself. So last fall I booked a 4-day Pacific Northwest cruise with Holland America on the Ryndam out of Vancouver, BC. We were supposed to sail September 22-26, 2003. I picked this itinerary because it was short and included 2 cities I really wanted to visit – Victoria and Seattle. In January I got a call from my travel agent. One of those “I have good news and I have bad news” calls. The bad news – an insurance company chartered the Ryndam so outsiders like myself were being evicted from the ship. The good news – in order to keep my business, HAL was offering me a 7-day Alaskan cruise out of Vancouver for a nominal extra fee. My first cruise was on the Statendam to Alaska. I knew I wanted to go back there at some point, I just didn’t realize an opportunity for a repeat trip would present itself so soon. Now I had to choose between several “dam” ships and dates offered by the cruise line. Since I already sailed on the Statendam, I ended up picking the Maasdam because of the May sailing date. Besides being at the beginning of the Alaskan cruise season, it left and returned midweek and included Memorial Day weekend. I was actually relieved to not be sailing on a ship full of insurance agents. All I could picture in my mind was a bunch of drunken salesmen quoting actuarial tables. Reason enough to violate the cruise lines’ policy of “Nothing Overboard”. Background This is probably the place to give you some information about my likes/dislikes so that you can put this review in perspective as you read it. I’m a 50-year-old single, professionally employed female living in Tennessee. Things that are important to me on a cruise include service, food, the cleanliness of my cabin and the ship in general, and interesting ports. Things that don’t rate as high include the ship’s décor, bars, casinos, and discos. I like to stay active on a cruise or any vacation, for that matter, so my idea of relaxation and a good time isn’t to lay in the sun for hours on end or park myself in a deck chair. Itinerary The cruise started in Vancouver, BC and our first day was spent at sea cruising the Inside Passage. Second day was Juneau, followed by Skagway. Day 4 was more scenic cruising through Glacier Bay National Park. Our next port on the way back to Vancouver was Ketchikan, followed by Day 6 in the Inside Passage, and finally disembarkation on Day 7. I visited Juneau and Ketchikan on my previous Alaskan cruise but Skagway was a new destination. My only regret about this itinerary was that it didn’t include Sitka, my favorite port on my previous Alaskan cruise. One big advantage was that I was able to buy a round trip airline ticket to and from Vancouver, and fly back home the same day we disembarked from the ship. When I did the Vancouver to Seward itinerary, I had to fly back from Anchorage, which involves taking a “red eye” if you live east of the Rockies. I was up for 30 hours and didn’t get back home until noon the next day. Reservations and Travel Arrangements I booked the cruise, airline tickets, and hotel room in Vancouver through my travel agent, but didn’t use HAL’s Fly/Cruise Plan. There’s a certain amount of stress connected with all travel and I do everything I can to minimize it. One way to do this is to spend the extra money and get to the port city a day early. All you need is a missed airline connection or a major incident on a highway, and your vacation is off to a disastrous start. For convenience, I booked HAL’s airport transfer for my return trip to the Vancouver Airport. It was $15 and could only be booked onboard at the Shore Excursions desk, unless it was part of your Fly/Cruise plan. Packing On my first trip to Alaska, which was in July, we had cool temps and rain the entire week. This time I had a better idea of what might happen, weather-wise, and found it easier to pack. Packing for an Alaskan cruise is challenging because you have Land’s End by day, formal by night, and not much overlap between the two. Two days before I left, I checked the Internet for weather reports on Vancouver and southeast Alaska. Predictions were typical for the Pacific Northwest - cloudy/rainy weather with temps in the 30s and 40s at night and 50s and 60s during the day. Because of the potential for rain, I highly recommend taking 2 pairs of walking shoes so one can dry while you’re wearing the other. And socks, socks, and more socks. Don’t leave home without an umbrella, rain slicker or poncho, and hat and gloves. Both underwear and outerwear made of water resistant fabrics can be a godsend. I got a lot of use out my long-sleeve Coolmax tops. Layering is the key word when dressing for Alaskan weather. If you can afford the suitcase space, pack a lightweight, but warm, jacket made out of a fabric like Polartec. Mornings and evenings on deck can be downright cold. The number of formal, semi-formal, and casual nights on your cruise will also influence what you pack. We had 2 formal, 1 semi-formal, and 4 casual nights. I packed one pair of dressy black pumps and wore them for both formal and semi-formal nights. I wore virtually everything I brought with me. I just wish I had packed more short-sleeve t-shirts. I found the temperature on the ship itself to be a little warm and muggy, and needed some lighter weight clothing for shipboard activities. May 21 - Vancouver I got up at 4:00 AM in order to be ready when my ride picked me up at 5:30. The flight from Tennessee to Chicago was uneventful, but changing planes was your typical O’Hare Airport nightmare. Our arrival gate was on Concourse F, and I had to race thru the terminal to get to my departure gate on Concourse B. When I got there, they were already calling my row. The flight was sold out and very stuffy (the air, not the passengers). We finally landed in Vancouver. I fell in love with this beautiful, cosmopolitan city the first time I visited it. At the airport I bought a ticket for around $8 (USD) for the downtown transporter. It involved making a transfer, so it was going on 3:00 (5:00 CDT) before I finally arrived at the Hampton Inn on Robson Street, across from BC Place. I was hot, tired, sweaty, and hungry. Robson Street is the “trendy” area for restaurants, clubs, and shopping, and my plans were to walk to dinner that evening and check things out. Given my foul mood, I decided to take a shower and lay down for a quick nap. When I woke up, it was 10 PM and raining. So much for my exciting evening on Robson Street. I watched some TV and then went back to sleep. May 22 - Embarkation The next day I got up feeling excited and energetic. I attributed my bad mood of the previous day to hunger, sleep deprivation, and jet lag, not to mention the hot, stifling air on the plane. I had arranged beforehand, via the Internet, for a Gray Line tour bus to pick me up at the hotel in the morning. The cost was $30. The exchange rate definitely works in favor of American visitors to Canada. My hotel bill ended up being $174. However, when my credit card statement arrived, I was only charged $124. Since Holland America owns Gray Line, they were able to send my luggage on ahead to the cruise terminal. The tour included Stanley Park, Queen Elizabeth Park, Gastown, Chinatown, Granville Island, and the Shaughnessy neighborhood. I highly recommend this method of getting to the cruise ship terminal, especially if you’ve never been to Vancouver. When the 3-hour tour was finished, the bus driver dropped the cruise passengers off at Canada Place. After waiting in check-in and immigration lines, going through the security screening, and filling out numerous forms, including a SARS questionnaire, we finally boarded. Considering that they have to process about 1,200 passengers, things moved fairly smoothly. Some of the check-in agents and employees were a bit unclear on what forms needed to be filled out prior to boarding, and which could wait. Also, I don’t understand why HAL doesn’t include the account payment form in your cruise documents, as well as the form that asks you where you’re going at disembarkation and how you’re getting there. I filled out my immigration form on-line, under the false premise that I would be entitled to get in some type of express check-in line. I booked an Inside Guarantee, which means I paid a lower fare in return for not being able to choose a specific cabin. The cruise line guarantees that you’ll receive a cabin in your selected class, but may upgrade you if cabins at higher levels aren’t sold out. I was pleased with the cabin I ended up being assigned. It was actually an outside cabin on the Lower Promenade deck with a totally obstructed view, according to the deck plan. In actuality, if you sat on one side of the bed, you could get a ¾ view of the ocean. Because I had an outside stateroom, the bathroom had both a shower and a tub. I was located away from the launderette and elevators, so my gamble with a guarantee paid off. I don’t recommend the Lower Promenade deck if you’re a late sleeper. This is the level with a continuous teak wood deck circling the ship, so the crew is out there early cleaning and setting up deck chairs. Since I tend to get up early anyway, the noise didn’t bother me, and the Lower Promenade is a convenient location for accessing the outside of the ship. I noticed that the top of the dresser was sticky from what appeared to be spilt drinks. I couldn’t find my cabin steward and my luggage hadn’t yet arrived, so I put my wallet and important documents in the safe and decided to head on up to the Lido for lunch. When I returned, the dresser top had been wiped clean, so I’m guessing the steward was well aware of it, but wasn’t able to get everything done before passengers started to board. My luggage arrived while I was at lunch, so I unpacked, and was greeted by another surprise when I went to store the suitcases under the bed. I found a woman’s shoe. Things seemed to be getting off to a little bit of a rocky start. I left the shoe, accompanied by a friendly note, on the bed when I left for dinner. From then on, my cabin was orderly and spotless. The steward always greeted me when he saw me in the hallway and even though I was by myself, he would put 2 chocolates out for me at night (one for each hip). Before the muster drill, I took a tour of the ship’s public areas, which I recommend to anyone as a way to get oriented. On the last day, there were still people perplexed as to why they couldn’t get to the Dining Room by walking the entire length of Deck 7. The Maasdam is a sister ship of the Statendam, which I cruised on previously. Their layouts are almost identical to the Statendam, so I was able to get the lay of the land pretty quickly. After the muster drill, there was a sail away party. The only problem was, we didn’t sail anywhere. Our captain, Master Frans Consen, got on the public address system and in his booming Dutch voice with his rolling “Rs”, explained that there was a computer malfunction that involved resetting the automation system. Much later that evening, we finally pulled away from the dock. During the night, I woke up and it didn’t feel to me that that ship was moving. I was right. Captain Consen was back on the PA system the next morning, explaining that we didn’t get very far when the mechanical problem reared its ugly head again. He made a decision to drop anchor overnight in English Bay, just outside Vancouver, to give his crew time to repair and recalibrate the automation system. May 23 – Day at Sea I started the day with breakfast in the Lido and then Mass at 8:15. Next on the agenda was a port and shopping talk that was a total waste of time, so I left before it was finished. I never seem to have enough time to read, so I made a promise to myself that I would check out a book from the Leyden Library and finish it by the end of the cruise. I selected Mario Puzo’s “The Family” and did, in fact, finish by the time we had to return borrowed books. My favorite reading spot was the Crow’s Nest Lounge. Quiet but with a great view of the scenery we sailed by. Besides borrowing a book, I also set up an account at the Internet Café. It cost $3.95 to activate the account, and $37.50 for a block of 40 minutes. Then it was on to the kitchen tour and cooking demo, which was quite interesting. The crew scrubs the floor, ceiling, and walls every day and the place is absolutely spotless. Since 9/11, tours of the bridge are no longer offered. Finally, bingo! I attended two sessions that day, one before lunch and one mid-afternoon. There was a lady who won 3 times that day and twice the day before. That’s almost statistically impossible. This was our first formal night and included the Captain’s Cocktail Reception. It was also the only time we hit a little bad weather. I learned to not do 2 things on a cruise ship in rough seas – shave my legs and paint my fingernails. What a disaster! After dinner I attended the show in the Rembrandt Lounge called “Up On The Roof” that featured songs from the 50s and 60s. There was grumbling from the nursing home set about too much rock & roll, but it was a big hit with the Baby Boomers. May 24 – Juneau I played a morning and afternoon session of bingo as we made our way to Juneau. Given our mechanical problems early in the cruise, we didn’t dock in Juneau until after 5:00. As compensation for our late arrival and for those passengers who missed their shore excursions, HAL offered everyone a complimentary city bus tour, including a stop at the Mendenhall Glacier and a salmon hatchery. My original plans were to visit the Alaska State Museum, which closed at 5:30, so I was glad to have an alternative. This was an unexpected, but much appreciated, gesture from HAL. I tried to stay up for the Indonesian Crew Show at 11:00 PM, but I still hadn’t adjusted to the 2 hr. time change and fell asleep. We set our clocks back another hour that night, so now I was 3 hrs. off schedule. May 25 – Skagway This was the only port where I booked a shore excursion. Someone I work with highly recommended the trip from Skagway into British Columbia on the White Pass Scenic Railroad. It cost $99, so this was my one big splurge. I am so glad I decided to do it and it was worth every penny. I’ve seen some incredible sites and scenery in my travels, including the Palace of Versailles, Devil’s Tower, the Badlands, etc., but this topped them all. The vistas are breathtaking as you make your way up the pass, following along side the path taken by the prospectors during the Klondike Gold Rush. I booked the shore excursion online at the HAL website, and was billed immediately. It was nice having the trip paid for before I even left home. Once the train got back into Skagway, I took the obligatory tourist walk down Broadway, including a stop at The Red Onion Saloon. A man and a woman dressed in 1890s garb stood outside and shouted to people passing by “Come on in and see where Frank Reid was shot in the groin by Soapy Smith and died an agonizing death 12 days later…the kids will love it”! In Skagway, some of the passengers who were taking a land tour of the interior (Anchorage, Fairbanks, Denali, etc.) disembarked the ship. Another group who had just completed the same land tour took their places. I knew about taking a land tour in conjunction with a cruise, but I wasn’t aware that you could take half a cruise. This is an interesting concept, and one I may pursue in the future. May 26 – Day at Sea I got up early so as to not miss our scenic cruising of Glacier Bay. On my first Alaskan cruise, the Coast Guard wouldn’t allow us into the Bay due to bad weather conditions, so I was really looking forward to this. We stopped at the entrance to the National Park to pick up a park ranger, who provided narration as we toured the glaciers. Even though the weather was pretty much drizzly and overcast the entire week, on this day it was sunny, so we got a good view of the glaciers. It was colder than all get out, and even thought I was wearing layers topped by a polar fleece jacket, I still had to wrap a wool deck blanket around me to get warm. Dutch green pea soup was served on deck at 10:00. At 3:15 there was Dutch High Tea in the Rotterdam Dining Room. To me, this is one of those extras that’s unique to HAL and sets them apart from other cruise lines. I remembered the strawberries dipped in white chocolate, and fortunately they served them again. It was Memorial Day for U.S. residents, but no real mention was made of it, other than a barbeque lunch beside the Lido pool. May 27 – Ketchikan After breakfast I had a choice of Mass or bingo, so I chose bingo. We docked in Ketchikan at 10:00, so most of my day was spent in port. Ketchikan has a reputation for being “the place where men and salmon come to spawn”. Before visiting Creek Street, the former red light district that’s now a tourist trap, I decided to mail a few things. My map showed a post office near the cruise ship dock. The sign was outside a clothing and souvenir shop. I walked in, followed the arrows that directed me into another store, and found myself standing among Kenmore washers, dryers, and refrigerators. It was Sears, and there was the post office. It was like a scene from the TV show “Northern Exposure”. On Creek Street, I visited Dolly’s famous house of ill repute, with a sign outside that read “If you can’t find your husband, he’s in here”. Legend has it that Dolly set a goal for herself of not quitting work each day until she made $100. She charged each man $3. That’s 33 and 1/3 men per day. Don’t ask about the 1/3! You could buy a print of an original poster that read “Girls will be unavailable July 3-5 in order to attend the July 4th Policemen’s Ball in Juneau”. I followed a dirt trail leading off of Creek Street that took me behind some buildings and ended up at a waterfall and fish ladder. It was called “Married Man’s Path” and served as the back entrance to Creek Street. May 28 – Day at Sea The day before I had received an invitation to my first Mariner’s Reception for repeat customers, along with a Delft tile depicting the Maasdam III . The reception was before lunch in the Rembrandt Lounge, and included complimentary appetizers and drinks. One woman was presented an award for sailing on HAL for 100 accumulated days. The presenter then asked for all 100+ day passengers to come to the front and pose for a picture. Average age for this group appeared to be around 90. I spent the rest of the day just relaxing, and played my final game of bingo before dinner. It was the final jackpot and also the win-a-cruise drawing. I didn’t win either. Bingo is one of the few items you can pay for with cash, which I always do. I don’t want to see how much money I’ve lost in black and white on my account. Our bags had to be out in the hallway for pick-up by midnight, so I spent the time before dinner packing. It’s a lot easier to pack going home, since you don’t care if the clothes are wrinkled or not, and you don’t have to think about what you’re going to need first, etc. May 29 - Disembarkation The first day on ship I purchased an airport transfer in order to minimize baggage handling. I waited in the Rembrandt Lounge for my number to be called and then we were loaded on buses and driven to the Vancouver Airport. Our bags we unloaded at the curb and then we proceeded to airline check-in, customs and immigration, security, etc. It was a lengthy process that took over an hour. Dining With the exception of one morning when I wanted Eggs Benedict, I ate breakfast at the Lido buffet. The fruit was outstanding, especially the fresh melon and pineapple. There were a good variety of breakfast items, from standard fare such as eggs and bacon, to more exotic offerings like smoked salmon and a cold meat and cheese tray. The smoked Gouda was especially delicious. Unfortunately, they only had it out the first two mornings. I divided lunch between the formal Rotterdam Dining Room and the Lido. Some noteworthy lunch items in the Rotterdam included Salmon Salad Nicoise, fried calamari as an appetizer, and Nasi Goreng. Nasi Goreng is the rice version of Bami Goreng, a spicy Indonesian noodle dish that I absolutely love and order on Dutch Night. It consisted of Indonesian seasoned fried rice, topped with a fried egg, similar to the way Korean food is served. Various spiced and curried meats, including an Indonesian meatball, surrounded the rice. I always had dinner in the Rotterdam. I requested second seating and ended up at a table for eight, consisting of two retired couples from Arkansas, two retired couples from Winnipeg, a single man from Vancouver, and myself. After the first night we never saw the Arkansas people again. I think they switched to 1st seating. But a couple from Niagara Falls, who boarded the ship in Skagway, joined us on the 4th night. Our waiter and assistant waiter were very attentive and never made a mistake on anyone’s order. Memorable dishes included the roast pork loin in an Alaskan amber sauce, lobster tails, Bami Goreng (of course), veal medallions Oscar, Dutch brown bean soup, and the crab and artichoke appetizer. My dining companions raved about two lamb entrees that were offered, rack of lamb and leg of lamb. My favorite desserts were the HAL signature chocolate cake, the key lime pie, and the warm bread pudding with vanilla sauce in the Lido. Somehow I missed the bread pudding on my first cruise. It’s the best bread pudding I’ve ever tasted and is a tradition on Holland America ships. One night I had a flourless chocolate truffle for dessert. It was over the top, even for a chocolate lover like myself. I should have stopped halfway through it, but didn’t. Sick to my stomach, I never made it to the Dessert Extravaganza that night. However, I recovered quickly and was back in dessert eating form the next day. I would give the food an overall rating of “B+”. My two main criticisms were the inconsistent temperature of the food, which sometimes bordered on lukewarm, and the fact that seafood wasn’t featured as prominently as it was on my first Alaskan cruise. However, neither of these factors prevented me from gaining 5 pounds. The pizza on this cruise also left a lot to be desired. Since my last HAL cruise, the crust had gone from the thicker, bread dough type to one that’s thinner and crisper. I could have lived with that, were it not for the fact that the pizza tended to be dry and overcooked, to the extent that the cheese on top was black. I did notice that it improved towards the end of the cruise, so maybe passengers were complaining, or a food service supervisor noticed that it wasn’t up to par. Fellow Passengers HAL caters to an older crowd, but this cruise was definitely skewed towards people in their 70s and 80s. Outside of a nursing home, I’ve never seen so many oxygen tanks, walkers, motorized scooters, wheelchairs, canes, and other orthopedic devices. Every other person seemed to have had a joint(s) replaced, or was waiting for joint replacement surgery. Being behind them in line required patience on my part, especially getting on and off the ship and in the Lido restaurant. I tried to keep in mind that someday that could be me. Probably half the passengers were Canadians, Brits, and Australians, with the other half from the States. There were a few children onboard, the youngest being a 4-month old nursing infant. I attribute the number of 70+ seniors on the ship to two factors – most families with school age children don’t take major vacations until June, and being that May is considered off-season in Alaska, fares are lower for the budget minded. Something I noticed on this Alaskan cruise, that was different from my previous one, was that far fewer men wore tuxedos on formal night. Two years ago I’d estimate that 80% of the men wore tuxes, whereas on this cruise, 80% seemed to opt for dark suits. I really enjoy seeing the gentlemen in their tuxes, and weddings and cruises are about the only 2 occasions in today’s society where formal wear prevails. Entertainment On an Alaskan cruise, the main attractions for me are the ports and the scenery. I did attend 3 evening shows and would give them an overall rating of “C”. Not one of HAL’s strong suits. I didn’t spend any time in the bars or the casino, so I can’t really comment on those aspects of the ship’s entertainment offerings. After spending most of the day in the cold Alaskan air, I was usually tired and back in my cabin at 10 PM. The Ship The Maasdam was introduced in 1993 and can carry 1,266 passengers. I found the decorating and color schemes throughout the ship to be very elegant and understated. The atrium, with its glass column structure, is simple but classy. How the crew keeps the entire vessel clean and in “shipshape” condition amazes me, when you consider the day in, day out traffic and wear and tear that it experiences. I would give the ship an overall rating of “A”. Prior to my cruise, I read a couple of Maasdam reviews that used the words “tired, dirty, and worn” to describe the ship. I honestly don’t know where these reviewers were coming from, because the Maasdam far exceeded my expectations. Cruising Solo I found cruising by myself to be both safe and fun. Some people, finding out I was by myself, took pity on me (“Oh you poor thang” as people say in the South). 1,200 other passengers, plus 600 crewmembers surrounded me, so there was nothing to be sorry about. There’s a ton of things to do on the ship and in port, whether you’re alone or with other people. I wouldn’t hesitate to do a cruise by myself again, and probably will. Observations and Conclusions There’s always post-cruise letdown. To prolong the mood, I was considering hiring a string quartet to serenade me each evening at home as I dine on my Lean Cuisine. I would like to mention a few things I think HAL could improve on that I haven’t discussed so far. It would more convenient if they would issue each passenger one card that would open your cabin, as well as serve as your shipboard account card. I also would like to see them imprint your credit card at check-in, to avoid having to stop at the front desk and stand in another line to get this done. In conclusion, I would recommend this ship and itinerary to anyone. Great service and attention to detail by the crew. I can’t wait until I can book another cruise. Happy sailing!

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May 22, 2003

Alaska

Alaska Cruise Review by Bob Herrick (May 22-29, 2003) On the Maasdam, Holland America Cruise Lines, 7-day Glacier Bay Inside Passage Cruise. I am not the best person to review a cruise, but since there weren’t too many reviews for this ship on this route, I thought it might be helpful. I say I am not a great reviewer for three reasons: 1) I’ve never been on a cruise before, so I have nothing to compare it to; 2) We have a toddler,

which does change your experience quite a bit, and 3) I am not a “natural” cruise ship passenger anyway (e.g., don’t like Broadway shows, dancing, or casinos). That having been said, I enjoyed the cruise more than I had expected. I thought on the whole the Maasdam was a well-designed and well-run boat, and the scenery was nice. We went on the 7-day cruise itinerary for the Alaska Inside Passage Cruise round trip from Vancouver (entitled “7-day Glacier Bay Inside Passage Cruise”). The port stops were Juneau, Skagway, and Ketchikan, with a day cruising in Glacier Bay. About a third of the passengers also got off in Skagway for land-based extensions into the Yukon and the interior of Alaska, most for an additional week. The first port stop was Juneau. Due to mechanical problems, we didn’t get there until around 5pm, so all the museums and visitor’s centers were closed for the evening. To compensate for the ship’s delay, they offered a free Salmon spawning center tour and Mendenhall Glacier tour (normally $40). The Salmon fishery had some nice aquariums inside, but was definitely not a “must see” kind of place. Likewise, the Mendenhall Glacier could be skipped if you’re already going to visit Glacier Bay later on your tour. (However, perhaps the visitor’s center is worthwhile – I don’t know since we didn’t get to go inside.) The second port stop, and our favorite, was Skagway. It’s at the north end of the inside passage, and was a launching point for people headed into the Yukon Territories last century. The people were friendly, they had great visitor’s center and historical museum, and we found a lot of great things to do. We started out in the “Klondike Gold Rush National Historic Park” Visitor Center / historical museum (web site: http://www.nps.gov/klgo/). They show an interesting movie every hour which is very worthwhile. They also offer walking tours of the historical downtown. After getting information on hiking from a few different places, we did an easy hike out to the point southwest of town. We had lunch at the Haven Café, the kind of “healthy food” deli / coffee shop I really love – really tasty food, too! (It’s a bit out off the tourist path, though.) Sitting at the next table was the Cruise Director of another cruise ship – all the rest of the customers were locals. Finally, we spent a few hours hiking to lower Dewey Lake. Most of the other hikers were locals who do the hike as exercise. We ended up hiking with a Native American and having a very interesting conversation about the challenges to preserving the native culture. The hike had great views of town and beyond, and the lake was also beautiful. It was a couple miles long, with a 500 foot ascent. Skagway is also famous for the White Pass Railway, but we didn’t think our toddler would enjoy being confined to a train. Given how much we enjoyed our day in town and the immediate vicinity, we were very happy to have done things without plans. The next day, we cruised in Glacier Bay National Park. (web site: http://www.nps.gov/glba/) Two Rangers came on board, and offered a few announcements over the PA, as well as offering more detailed commentary in the auditorium to those interested, and at outside observation points. Of course the thing Alaska cruises are most famous for is watching glaciers “calve”, where big icebergs break off into the water. I expected we’d be seeing this on many days of the trip, or at least all day in Glacier Bay Park. But actually, the Margerie Glacier was the only one we really watched. Evidently, with its deep (800ft) water, ice wasn’t supported by the bottom, as it was with many other tidewater glaciers which end in shallower water. So it had more calving action than any of the others. However, “more” is still a relative term. If you’re hoping to get video of icebergs breaking off, be prepared to wait up to half an hour. The captain approached slowly, held the boat in position for half an hour, rotated the boat 180 degrees to let the other side watch, and then left. We saw one small iceberg break off from our stateroom. The observation decks were quite crowded, as you might imagine. I probably would have spent more time on deck if I’d realized this was the only Glacier we’d see up close from the ship. The rest of the day was pleasant cruising among scenery not too different from the rest of the inside passage. Under some conditions and times of year, whales and other marine life can also be observed while cruising in the park. Our next port stop was in Ketchikan, where things did not work out as well for us as in Skagway. Ketchikan is one of the southernmost cities in Alaska, on an island, and near the Canadian border. We had read that most of the tourist attractions were overcrowded in the morning, and that it was better to go in the afternoon – this seemed especially timely advice given the fact there were 4 large cruise ships with a total of 4-5000 passengers in port when we arrived. We started out going to the Southeast Alaska Visitors Center on Mill and Main just a couple blocks from the cruise ship dock ($5 for adults), which was worthwhile both for the native American exhibits as well as the very helpful staff at the desk by the bookstore. They strongly recommended Saxman village as having good authentic native culture and being a worthwhile place to visit. They said that even as locals, they still made a point of visiting a few times a year, something I thought was high praise indeed. After we ate lunch at New York Café (also recommended by the staff, and a place I liked) we caught the bus the 2.5 miles to Saxman Village. Unfortunately, contrary to the general advice to go in the afternoon to miss the morning crowds, Saxman village is only open in the mornings, so it was kind of a downer. We took photos of the totem poles and listened to the tour guide’s description of what they were working on in the workshop. We were thinking about a hike, but the weather was lousy with periodic showers, and time was getting short, so we just did another hour or so of sightseeing in town (which wasn’t that great) before heading back to the ship. My wife and I agreed if we had it to do over again, we would either sign up for an organized tour, or rent a car (there are a number of attractions 6-10 miles to the north including good hikes at Ward Cove Recreation Area and Totem Bight State Historical Park). The boat (with, I believe roughly 1200 passengers and 500 crew) was a nice size in many ways. It was large enough to have a lot of variety in entertainment and public spaces, without the disadvantages of larger boats. Holland America is emphasizing similar size boats in its fleet, and making a point of avoiding “mega-ships” with 2000 or more passengers. However, even at this size, it was still large enough that disembarkation was slow at times. At least we always were able to dock, and never had to go through the hassles of using tenders. There were three areas they could improve things: one of them was embarkation / disembarkation at Canada Place. The lines to come through security were more than half an hour long. At some times, there were also waits to get your boarding cards after this, although we pre-registered on the web, and were able to avoid this second line. At the end of the cruise, we had to wait 90 minutes for them to call our disembarkation number, 30 minutes in the serpentine customs lines, and 20 minutes to get a taxi. While we don’t have personal experience with these things, I am told embarkation / disembarkation is usually a problem on any large boat – while the process could be improved (at a cost), I don’t know that this is worse than industry norms. The second thing they could improve is to hire window washers to wash the outside of the windows. They looked like they only got annual cleaning, and were caked with a lot of dirt and deposits. They were generally clear enough to see out of, but none of them (even on the top decks) were clean enough to photograph out of. If I saw something good out the windows, and wanted to video / photograph it, I would try to make a run for it to the nearest outside deck, but still missed some good shots (or got them with “dirty window” in front of them). In most other respects, the boat was nice, and kept well cleaned. We enjoyed the promenade deck, where 4 laps equal one mile. It was never “freezing” on our Alaska cruise – usually about 50F, with on-and-off light showers. You could run outside for a minute or two to photograph without a jacket and you’d be okay. But it was blustery in spots, and too cold to go jogging on the sports deck (at least while the boat was steaming). Some of our other favorite spots on the boat: I was pretty impressed with the weight room they had, with a good range of machines and dumbbells, as well as treadmills, rowing machines, and Stairmasters. I attended a yoga / pilates class, which was decent ($11 extra, a reasonable fee). My wife took advantage of the spa / beauty shop a few times, getting a manicure and hair styling. They also offer massages. They have a nice observation deck, at the top (the Crow’s nest). Did they really need twelve (yes, twelve) separate bars on ship, though? And if so, did they really need to staff them from morning to the small hours of the night? My toddler son and I got to know the bartenders quite well in exploring the ship, and they (of course) got little business at most locations until the evening hours after the first show let out. By the way, the crew and passengers could not have been more kid-friendly. The crew were almost all young men from Indonesia and the Philippines with young families they left behind for most of the year (they’d work 8 months or longer, then take 3 to 5 months off, before signing on for another contract). I read a critical review of the Statendam from a Mexican Riviera Cruise passenger, who was claiming Holland America understaffed their ships to cut labor costs. While I can’t speak to his cruise, ours was overstaffed in almost every department (this even with a full compliment of passengers). The service was quite good as a result. One area I heard a lot about before cruising was how great the food was – usually by people referring to how much or how often, which really doesn’t appeal to me (I want to hear about quality, not quantity). I also tend to be more critical than most people. Restaurants many people say are “great” often leave me thinking “it was okay, nothing better.” So the food on the ship was a really pleasant surprise, and one of the best things about cruising. Dinner at the main dining room was excellent every evening, and comparing it to the 50 restaurants I’ve eaten at in the San Francisco Bay Area, the Rotterdam Dining Room would beat all but one. This is really exceptional to consistently deliver food on this level, particularly given the number of passengers, and difficult circumstances on ship. Many of the dishes were the best I’d ever had, including the Tiramisu, Coconut Cream Pie (looks like Banana Cream Pie, which was also almost as good), and the Beef and Lamb Curries. By the way, Holland America makes it easy to eat healthy. The portions are reasonable, the dishes aren’t loaded up with excessive fats, and they have plenty of healthy choices, like a great salad bar. My only complaint was that, if eating at the main (Rotterdam) dining room in the morning, breakfast orders took 30-45 minutes between placing and receiving the order, due to understaffing in the kitchen during the morning. Because of this, we only ate in the main dining room twice for breakfast, using the Lido buffet instead the other mornings. The Lido dining room is more of a buffet service. They have a few decent appetizers and salads. The main entrées generally are “okay” but were usually not as good as what we had in the main dining room. If you go down the port side, they often have specials further along, such as a stir-fry or curry bar. The staff often would head directly for this part of the dining area, and we found it had the best lunch food in the Lido as well. Further down the line on the port side were desserts (most were not quite as good as they looked, but a few were excellent, so try small portions of each before going back). To the end of the line on the starboard side was the ice cream bar, which was open extra hours. The ice cream was quite good, with flavors such as the strawberry, pistachio, and cinnamon better than any I’ve had elsewhere. They also offer a “midnight buffet” at 11pm. I passed on the food except for Southwestern night (there’s a theme each night). The dessert extravaganza night near the end of the cruise needs to be seen to be believed (long lines, though). I usually tried a few desserts, and got some ice cream. Ship’s activities were generally adequate to keep us interested. I’m not big on the usual “Las Vegas” activities that are the bread-and-butter of most cruise ships, such as evening shows, casinos, drinking, discos, etc. So your average passenger would be more satisfied by the lineup. The last sea day was a bit disappointing, with too much emphasis on Bingo (one of their main daily activities) but pretty weak otherwise. The ice carving demo was worthwhile, though. My wife thought the evening shows were quite good (I watched our son while she went, but from what I little I saw, the shows also looked good to me.) The “enrichment program” was a little disappointing, with a not-very-good lecture from the ship’s naturalist (who spoke too much from notes with way too few slides), and a short presentation from one of the Glacier Bay National Park Rangers. The Port Shopping and Tour lectures were not worth attending, with no visual aids or maps in the videos I saw of them. They appeared to be solely designed as a sales vehicle for tours and hyping shops where Holland America earned commissions from the merchants, and devoid of information that I found useful for what we wanted to do. Your time would be better spent in the ships library, which has a whole bookshelf full of Alaska books with great information on the port stops. By the way, Holland America offers a very wide assortment of shore excursions, with about 40 at each of the ports we visited. After the cruise was over, we spent a few days in Vancouver, which we really enjoyed. It’s the most densely populated city in North America outside of Manhattan, which makes it compact enough to be walkable, and it also has good public transport. We signed up for the Gray Line double-decker tour bus, which makes a circuit of town. They usually sell you a ticket that lets you use it for two days, getting off whenever you want, and then catching the next bus when you’re ready to move on. The buses take 2 hours to complete a loop, and the next bus comes every 30 minutes. The quality of the commentary varied widely. One of the bus drivers knew everything, and was great; others were immigrants who were difficult to understand, and didn’t say much anyways. The ride was bit rough – I now understand why double-decker busses aren’t used much outside England! We had three days, which was about the right amount of time. My favorite sight: the small cold water aquariums in the Vancouver Aquarium. The “curators” at the aquarium packed every one of the little 1-cubic-foot aquariums with all sorts of little jewels from the sea – it took a few minutes to really appreciate each one. It was too bad that most people didn’t even look at most of them, focusing instead on the big aquariums (perhaps because the aquariums were fogged up due to the cold water – it’s worth the time to wipe the condensation off!) The belugas were also enjoyable to watch. Granville Island was my second favorite place, with walks along Robson in the evening and a visit to Mondo Gelato a close third. If you have the ability to add a couple of days on at the start or end of your cruise, Vancouver is a nice place to visit.

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Feb 27, 2003

Eastern Caribbean

My son who is 23, but looks like he is about 16 and I went on the Maasdam. My husband had to work. My son would have loved it if there would have been younger people on the ship. I really regret not getting some addresses of some of the people on the cruise. There were some that were very nice that we met at places like the show. The only other cruise we went on was a long time ago and they had great shows that are like going to New

York. At a scavenger hunt a sweet lady took her bra off if you are out there please let me know. You and your husband and friends were a pleasure to meet. Since 9/11 I was wondering if there were any cruise ships that really aren't cutting back a lot. thank you

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Aug 4, 2002

Ft. Lauderdale, Cozumel, Grand Cayman, Jamaica, Half Moon Cay

First let me say, that Holland America lived up to every expectation for exemplary service and food. The weather and seas for the 7 day cruise were perfect. We had Suite 28. Extremely spacious, beautifully appointed with closet and drawer space plentiful--even for the 2 of us. The Philippine staff knows how to serve and please the guests. They can never do enough or ask you enough what you need or if you need ANYTHING! The food in the

main Rotterdam dining room is exceptional. We live in Miami where there are manifold wonderful restaurants so for us to say it--believe it. The lamb chops are to die for. The entertainment is 1st class. Mike Robinson, a ventriloquist, was a marvel as was the juggler-Edge. Not typical juggling--sort of new age and very entertaining. The main cast shows were excellent and the costumes vibrant and Cher like. As for the ports and excursions: Cozumel: we went shopping in town--had a great time Grand Cayman- went to stingray city--a must--it really is fun and a once in a lifetime experience for all ages Jamaica--Dunn's river falls was terrific fun and beautiful--we took the Catamaran and I recommend it. We shopped the rest of the day at the Taj Mahal and Sony village-some very good bargains in Jewelry or watches if you are interested. Half Moon Cay--although we have been to other private islands before, here is different. The most beautiful beach I've seen--nicer than Nigril Jamaica; the $10 million or so they invested really makes a difference. The sand is magnificent and the barbecue matched. We spent the day in the water on the beach Play Bingo! we had loads of fun every day- We won one of them, but the snowball jackpot was won by someone else--$5400!!! on Saturday night at 10:15PM Did I mention the cheeseburgers on the LIDO deck? If I didn't, get them--they are great! Maybe it was because of the season, but we found the age group to be very diversified--probably 5% over 65, 25% between 55 and 65, 50% between 40 and 55, 15% between 30 and 40 and yes there were many children of all ages; it was very mainstream If anyone needs to chat about this ship and our experience, please feel free to contact me. By the way, we were on the inaugural voyage of Explorer of the Seas two years ago; so we can help with the comparison Joel

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Jun 2, 2002

Eastern Caribbean

Now onto the Maasdam. We arrived at the port and sailed thru the embarkation process. Since we were traveling with our baby, I asked one of the HAL reps. if we could board the ship earlier which they graciously did. We were greeted as usual on the ship and escorted to our cabin. We had chosen a large oceanview cabin on the Main deck. Like usual on the other HAL ships we sailed the cabin was large, a queen bed, plenty of closet space and storage,

nice picture window and a bath tub, which is great with kids. We really enjoy our cabins on HAL. The Maasdam is not a large ship by today’s standards. Only about 55,000 tons. Since the ship is smaller and has fewer passengers there are virtually no lines encountered and no noise from herds of people. We had plenty of breathing room. The pools and public areas were never crowded. The food in the Dining room was excellent with plenty of choices. The children’s menu was very good. In fact it looked so good with the fried chicken that I even ordered from it. During the day we ate our breakfast and lunch at the Lido which served up a nice buffet. The service in the dining room was very good as usual. The Lido service tended to be a bit rushed but still good. Our cabin steward was excellent and always kept our cabin very clean and tidy. One note to parents with infants. On HAL if your cabin does not come with a refrigerator you can rent one for $2.00 per day. We rented one and it fit nicely on the desk and was out of the way. Although our toddler did not participate in the children’s activities we did talk to other parents and kids that raved about how good the activities were. The kids program is NOT a drop off day care with hundreds of kids. These are well thought out activities and the kids can choose which ones they want to go to. Babysitting is available and arranged with the wonderful Filipino ladies at that front desk. They are they ones who do the actual babysitting which many families utilized and raved about. Although we did not use this service I expect we will use it the next time we cruise on HAL. The shows on the Maasdam were so so. HAL needs to beef up the entertainment variety. Although what they had was good, they just needed more variety. Plus the shows were family shows without the nudity and foul language that we experienced on CCL. Our overall cruise experience was great as usual as we have come to expect from HAL and the reason we keep going back. This cruise line is great for passengers who have the ability to appreciate good quality with out all of the glitz and hoopla of the mega ships. Even though we didn't have a climbing wall and ice skating rink and a shopping mall on board. We are creative enough to make our own fun. How nice it was to see kids just playing and having fun. And adults playing cards and games or a game of basketball or volleyball. And believe me...they were having a great time. Those who think a Holland America cruise is for old people.....think again! Holland has a wide age range on its ships....and all have a great time. There are two areas that need improvement besides the nightly entertainment. 1. The Lido pool area is very slippery when it get wet and people did slip and fall...so be careful. 2. The ships stops in Nassau for only 4 hours. A better time would be had if we had another day at sea instead. If you want more information or want to comment please email us. Sincerely, Gene Schenkel

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May 26, 2002

Western Caribbean

Often while cruising, we enjoy asking our fellow passengers which is their favorite cruise line, and frequently the response is Holland America Line (HAL) for its terrific service and cuisine. Since we had never sailed with HAL, we felt obliged to plan a cruise on one of its ships. This was our 27th cruise and it was an excellent one. Lower Promenade Deck 6 forward has the bronze plaque from Monfalcone, Genoa, Italy stating that the M S Maasdam

is the #5882nd ship built by the prolific and venerable Fincantieri Shipbuilders. She is lovely, reminiscent of the liners of yesteryear with a wrap around outside promenade and her interior motif is in homage to the historical Dutch East and West India companies, which made so many noted journeys around the world trading during the 17th through the 19th centuries. The Maasdam was launched in 1993: her length is 720 feet; width is 101 feet, with a draft of 24 feet 6 inches; gross tonnage is 55,451 and her maximum speed is 21 knots. Guest capacity is 1,266 with a crew of 560. She is the second of her class, and her sister ships are the Statendam launched in 1992, followed by the Ryndam in 1994 and the Veendam in 1996: THE FIVE STAR FLEET! The first ships to have three deck atriums, which of course may now seem small compared to the nine and ten deck atriums of newer ships. Her Captain Dirk van den Berg (Holland) ably sailed us 1,908 nautical miles of pure relaxation and pleasure. EMBARKATION HAL boards in Ft. Lauderdale at 3 pm. There were crowds waiting, but we were met at baggage drop off by a steward who skillfully pushed Vincent's wheelchair and had us in our cabin in about ten minutes. Security clearance was simple, but credit card registry is done on board later during the week. Unlike newer systems, where one card is cabin key, credit card and boarding pass, on the Maasdam you will also need a personal ID for reboarding at each port. This system is soon to be changed according to Hotel Director Dirk Verhey van Wijk (Holland), who runs a beautifully maintained ship. We met with Mr. van Wijk, who proved to be a nexus to information. Soon, at the next dry docking, an updated one card system will be installed. PUBLIC AREAS The HAL ships are standardized in outward appearance, with navy blue hulls and white upper decks and all have an oval disk on their funnel depicting a navy blue hull sporting a sailing vessel with all sails blowing in the wind --- very nautical as are the interiors. Blue colors and sailing memorabilia are much in evidence everywhere. The Maasdam has nine passenger decks, two sets of four elevators, forward and aft. The main galley is centrally located on Deck 7. This design impedes the access to the atrium from the lower level of the Rotterdam Dining Room. To remedy the inconvenience of the traffic flow on Deck 7 from the dining room to the Rembrandt Lounge forward or the Atrium midship, it is necessary to take an elevator or climb the stairs to Deck 8 and proceed forward to the other set of elevators or stairs. All of her interior public areas are essentially on Decks 7 and 8. They are extensively decorated with the famous fresh flowers of Holland which include the exotics such as ginger, delphinium, antherium and birds of paradise, as well as carnations, roses, etc. The heady scent of flowers is in the air at every corner. A Deck (4), Main Deck (5), and the Lower Promenade Deck (6) are all cabins. Promenade Deck (7) forward holds the Rembrandt Lounge/Theatre's lower level with its sofa seating and moveable barrel chairs and a series of delft blue and white tiled tables. The Dutch tiles are repeated on the ceiling and around the stage area quite nicely. The stage curtain is a composition of 18th century sailing ships, neatly lined in rows and sparkling as they sail on a midnight blue sea. Midship is the photo gallery and then the three deck high Atrium, with its equally tall sea blue crystal sculpture by Italian artist Luciano Vistosi. Look for the model of the 18th century ship, the "Brick da Commerce" of the Dutch India Company. Nearby are the Front Office and Guest Relations managed by the very competent Jason DeLeo. He is a whiz at solving passengers' problems and very personable. Here is also the Java Cafe with its complimentary excellent teas and coffees and freshly made cookies (try the almond ones, they melt in the mouth.). Across the corridor is the Wajang Theatre with four daily showings of the latest films and free popcorn. Toward aft is located Club HAL, the "Kid's Zone", then the galley and all the way aft the Rotterdam Dining Room with its surround windows. Upper Promenade Deck (8) forward has the Rembrandt Balcony, where the sofa style seating needs improvement, since the only row with a clear view of the stage is the first one and then there is still the rail to contend with. The level of each tier needs to be raised at least another 10 inches to allow for a clear view of the stage. Midship are the boutiques and shops with the usual fare. . . . some cruise line company must break ranks and start to offer alternatives to the standardized items aboard every line. Many more sales could be made if there were new and varied items introduced. Frequent cruisers all complained that there is nothing new: Inch of Gold and overpriced baby and children items are boring and too costly for many to take serious. However, the ship's logo items were the best value. The Casino, Casino Bar and Piano Bar are also midship on this deck, and in the connecting corridor, there is a fantastic oak carving of a monkey atop a dolphin where both animals have savage expressions. It is truly unique and original, but like most of the art and artifacts aboard no artist is cited only the period when created. It's a pity. Toward aft on the port side is the Card Room with its gorgeous Japanese vases and the Library with the internet area. A corridor abeam the ship holds many interesting works: a wooden horse mounted on sled runners, a huge world globe, oriental paintings on silk, and the famous Canton china brought back as ballast for centuries by merchant ships. On starboard side is the Explorers lounge where Captain van den Berg held his cocktail party. Hot canapés are served here every evening, as well as in the Crow's Nest. All the way aft is the Balcony of the Rotterdam Dining Room where we had table #52 with an excellent view of the Morning Glory Blue crystal chandelier, no doubt the forerunner of those floral chandeliers seen aboard the Carnival Pride and other newer liners. This dining room was awash in red and blue colors from the decor to the uniforms of the stewards. Verandah Deck (9) is almost all balconied suites (Cat. B) with a few inside (Cat. I) and ocean view (Cat. C) cabins. Navigation Deck (10) has suites (Cat. PS, S and A) with a few inside (Cat. I) cabins, in addition to the second swimming pool aft and the bridge forward. We were invited to the only Penthouse Verandah Suite on the ship, #001, by Joe and Estrella, our new acquaintances. This is a spacious three room suite and balcony (more than 1,100 sq. ft.), with Roman marble whirlpool bath and shower and many other luxuries. Needless to say, they took most of their meals in their suite. Why leave? Forward is the bridge, the ship's core. We had a wonderful explanation of daily charting by ship's Navigator Chris Guthrie (Scotland); he pointed out the wisdom and necessity to manually chart courses; even though this ship's computerized systems are state of the art. He spoke of his daily use of compass and sextant to back up automatic systems. HAL has a great "Ambassador" in Mr.Guthrie; he was patient and informative. Lido Deck (11) is where the open air action occurs. Forward is the Observation Deck and the Ocean Spa, Gym, and Beauty Parlor. Midship is the Terrace Grill (informal BBQ), the Lido Deck, two jacuzzi hot tubs (extremely hot) and a lap pool (nicely cool). Here is also a copper sculpture of a dolphin family and the Dolphin Bar, all under a sliding dome cover. Aft is the Lido Restaurant (buffet) which was quite good (more later). Sports Deck (12) forward is the Crow's Nest with its curved windows to the sea, and live band every evening. Very nice. Aft are the practice tennis & basketball courts and the Club HAL Wave Runner. SERVICE AND FOOD Many have told us the service aboard HAL is A-One -- and it is! Holland America runs its own training school in Jakarta, Indonesia, where all dining room staff are recruited. Many stewards stay with HAL upwards of twenty years. Hotel Director van Wijk explained the "No Tipping " policy is due to the crew's union contract by which substantial wages and benefits keep them motivated. However, tipping for special efforts is graciously received. The stateroom stewards are all from the Philippines and truly believe it is a pleasure to serve the passengers. Passengers are welcomed aboard by stewards in red & blue uniforms with pillbox hats; dinner is announced by a steward walking throughout the ship with chimes as was done on liners of yesteryear. Nice touch, HAL, in keeping this tradition! Food was on par with Royal Caribbean and Celebrity Lines with several excellent offerings: Daily on the Lido there was hot bread pudding, which rivaled any soufflé, with an accompanying hot vanilla sauce. Pizza was also made onboard with fresh dough, lightly topped with a variety of condiments and cooked to perfection -- crispy and delicious! Appetizers were light in general and varied: Fresh fruit, pate`, fish (gravlax, prawns, herring, crab legs, caviar, etc.). Soups were interesting, both hot and cold, many spicy; the French onion was the best. Salads were just the right size, not overpowering: excellent choices are Caesar's, Greek, and Westlandse Sla. Holland night was made festive by white peaked hats for the ladies and black caps for the men. Nice touch! Entrees were quite good and aptly prepared under the Executive Chef Michael Mahn, who is to be complimented for the over 6,000 meals beautifully served daily. We take away fond memories of his Risotto con Funghi, braised and roasted beef and chicken, perfectly prepared steaks, prime rib and lobster tails. However, his gnocchi served on a bed of spinach and pine nuts were so light they almost floated off the plate! Desserts ranged from sugarless and light to decadent double chocolate layer cakes and some nice fruited ones. We had a wonderful week of food and service at table #52 by Steward Wawan, Asst. Steward Sulaiman, Wine Steward Roy Manangkil and Dining Room Supervisor Tri. There is 24-hour room service onboard, serving full American breakfasts in the cabins, even on the day of disembarkation. Hot canapés were served in all the bars and ice cream, toppings and cookies were available on the Lido Deck. All in all, no one could go hungry here! CABIN Mini Suite B 191 Verandah Deck (9) was bright and clean with new carpeting. Entering on the left there is the bathroom with commode, Jacuzzi tub, safety rails all around, single sink and one long shelf for sundries, many new towels and amenities. Next is the king size bed flanked by two night stands, with blue and green comforter patterned to evoke thoughts of the South Sea Islands. There is a sofa/bed, a coffee table and hassock, mini refrigerator and an end table. When entering on the right are four wardrobes (two with hangers and two with shelves), a personal safe, a TV/VCR console and a vanity/desk with mirror and chair. The far wall is glassed; there is the door to the private balcony with a chair, table and a chaise lounge. Our steward Subair kept it all in order unobtrusively and brought ice and a fresh bowl of fruit daily. Cruise Director Dave Shermet runs a tight ship with a full schedule of the usual fare on board: Bingo, Games, Exercises, ping pong, shuffleboard, tennis, volleyball, basketball and don't forget Quoits (this is just ring toss). Showtime at the Rembrandt Lounge was the usual mix of singing and dancing. Two special shows were excellent: Greg Frewin, billed as the #1 Magician in the world, was deft at slight of hand; Don Sherman's ship humor was very entertaining. Many venues had music and gatherings, yet there were plenty of quiet places with fantastic views to just sit and relax, or read and do crossword puzzles. PORTS OF CALL The HAL Western Caribbean itinerary includes the following ports of call: COZUMEL, MEXICO -- Tuesday -- Arrival 9 am. Departure 1:30 pm GEORGETOWN, GRAND CAYMAN -- Wednesday -- Arrival 9 am. Departure 4 pm. OCHOS RIOS, JAMAICA -- Thursday -- Arrival 7 am. Departure 4:30 pm. HALF MOON CAY, BAHAMAS -- Saturday -- Arrival 7:30 am. Departure 3 pm. We are not describing these ports, nor the relative shore excursions, since we have visited them many time and reported on them in other reviews. However, this was our first time on Half Moon Cay, HAL private resort on San Salvador Island. Unfortunately, we did not tender ashore, since it was a rainy day. We have heard though that the best activities to do on this island are water sports, including snorkeling, scuba diving, windsurfing, etc. and land activities such as nature walks, golf chipping and the BBQ picnic. DEBARKATION After a very early breakfast in the dining room, we had a long wait for immigration check. The line for US citizens began at 6:45 am, stretched throughout Deck 8 from the Rembrandt Lounge to the Rotterdam Dining Room then to the Card Room. It lasted longer than one hour and a half just for a passport check. Then we waited until 9:30 for debarkation. SUGGESTIONS 1. The seating in the balcony of the Rembrandt Lounge needs to have each level raised, so that those seated in the tiers behind the first one would have a better view of the stage. Many spectators were grumbling that they could not see the magician's tricks. 2. Since Grand Cayman Island is so good for underwater experiences, maybe HAL could make available to cruisers an excursion with the new SEAmobile Submarine Tours, recently featured in National Geographic Magazine. It explores the coral reefs off the 7 Mile Beach in a bubble like underwater mobile with a pilot for only $125 per hour. 3. After the tragic events of 9/11, the new requirement for US citizens' passport inspection by Immigration, is creating unnecessary long lines of passengers at the times of arrival in US ports. To reduce the waiting times in these lines, we suggest to schedule the passport inspection at set times according to category, cabin or deck numbers; e.g., Cat. A at 7:00, Cat. B at 7:15, etc. A similar procedure has already been adopted by some cruise lines. This was our first cruise with HAL and it was a good one. We plan to have many more cruises with this and other lines, perhaps on the new ships, Prinsendam and Zuiderdam. For now we have already booked a Hawaii cruise on the Norwegian Star for July, a return cruise on the Golden Princess for November and a cruise on the new RCI Navigator of the Seas in January 2003. Happy Cruising!

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May 12, 2002

Western Caribbean

Second cruise for us, first was on Royal Caribbean. We will NOT cruise on Holland America again. Very poor bar service, had to get and find someone to get a drink around the pool or in the shows. Poor service by the waiter, and the wine steward ignored us. Room service was OK, not great. Food portions were small. Limited menu selections some nights. Pizza was horrid. No show one night. Could not stop at Half Moon Cay, three foot swells

- and no alternative or credit offered. Crew said they skip Half Moon about 40% of the time. Shore excursions - Tulum Ruins in Cozumel were interesting, very hot. Cayman Island just great, don't miss Sting Ray City. Dunn's Falls is good.

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Jan 6, 2002

Western Caribbean Cruise

The onboard entertainment selection was great. Always something going on somewhere. We rarely go to the movies (because of three little kids) and it was a treat to see Serendipity, Jurassic Park 3, Rock Star, and A.I. in the comfortable movie theatre on board. My wife especially loved the Java Café located just outside the theatre where she nourished her craving for cappuccinos! The Rembrandt Lounge in the evening went from good to

bad to good to bad to great. Meaning, the marquee talent, Devlin the Magician, Juggler Bob Cates and Comedian Don Sherman, were very good. But the onboard show crew was hard to listen to. We were also a little disappointed by the lack of a band on board. There were a few three-piece combo groups but nothing larger. Our NCL boat had a large band, with brass, that played for all the shows and the dances at night and we missed them greatly on this cruise. HAL would be wise to upgrade the musical talent onboard. In Cozumel, we opted for the Tulum Ruins sightseeing tour. What an incredible archeological place to visit. The ruins were breathtaking and our guide was extremely knowledgeable about the area. Plus, the bus ride to Tulum lets you see how the real Mexico looks and it’s not all palm trees and cabana boys. At Tulum be sure to not fall into the tourist trap of paying to ride the tram to the ruins sight ($3.00 per person, round trip). The walk is less than a ¼ mile and we beat the tram. On the other hand, if you have trouble walking you might want to take the tram, for the road is unpaved and rugged. There is also a $5.00 tax Mexico charges for the right to videotape at the sight. Grand Cayman escapes us again; sea swells were too strong to visit. One of these days I’ll see Stingray City! This was our second visit to Ocho Rios, Jamaica, and we knew from the first visit to be ready for the panhandlers. We avoided the taxis and shops and chose to ferry ourselves over to Dunn’s River Falls. What a great ride along the coast on our Cool Runnings Catamaran. The falls were a treat to sea from the ocean. We were only asked twice if we wanted to purchase some marijuana, this was a massive improvement from our first trip where we were asked constantly. Avoiding the taxis is the way to go in Ocho Rios, but beware of walking anyplace lest you’ll be run over by the taxis. Half Moon Cay, a great little island. Plenty of surf, sand and HAL let the crew relax as well. All there is to do is just look at beautiful view of your ship sitting in a bay all day long with your dining room steward. All have a nice time. All said our cruise was great. The food on board was excellent. The Maasdam seemed to need a little TLC. More than a few mumbles from fellow passengers about plumbing and A/C problems and the ships brass fixtures needed polishing. Many lights were out, and rust spots dotted the Lower Promenade deck. Nevertheless the ship always felt clean and the crew seemed to always be cleaning. Look forward to sailing with HAL again but I might have to give NCL another go first.

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Nov 4, 2001

Western Caribbean

On day three we’re headed back to the Florida Straits, having gone northeast from Fort Lauderdale to evade Hurricane Michelle. It's windy with swells to 18 feet. The ship is rocking. People are seasick. I feel fine, though, and that's the important thing. The door to our veranda didn't quite close last night and our cabin sort of flooded. Who cares? This is the first cruise for my wife and me. We are overwhelmed by how

great it is. The captain, known by the passengers as “the genius,” came on the PA system a little while ago announcing his second change of plans. First we had intended to escape Hurricane Michelle by sailing in its intended path, to the Bahamas. It didn't work. The hurricane caught up with us. We reversed course for the straits of Florida, passing Fort Lauderdale last night. We're now in sunny weather on day 3, heading for Cozumel, our original destination. I had told my wife that I thought we should head right INTO the hurricane as it crossed Cuba, since we would get past it fastest that way and would have clear sailing afterwards, on to Cozumel. Since I knew George Clooney wasn't on the boat, I didn't have a chance of getting anyone to carry this plan to the captain. So off we went to the Bahamas, and then back to Florida, with a fair number of passengers playing "Show me what you had for breakfast" on day two. I should tell you my wife was one of those getting sick, and SHE said this was the best vacation she has ever had. This is a great ship if you can have fun while you're throwing up. Since leaving on Sunday: We've taken a nap every day. We've been working on making another baby. We've been eating. We've been drinking black russians on the verandah. I've been reading those little synopses of the Times every day. We've seen two movies on tv. Our tablemates are more adventurous. They've told us about the shows and the casino and this and that. This morning I woke up to the sound of someone banging his key on our door. That's about the only thing that gets me out of bed. It happens about five times a day. People are always coming over to fix this or announce that or whatever. I don't mind. I get some exercise, walking to the door, and after all, they're taking care of us. So there I am in my underwear (not a pretty sight), and in walks this waiter with breakfast. He puts it on the verandah and leaves. I go out there and sit down and have coffee. My wife is sleeping. The ship moves as if on one of those motorized walkways at the airport. The sea slips by. It is quiet except for the steady splash below. The sky is blue. There is a warm languorous breeze. I sit there drinking coffee and don't know what to think. I have never been anywhere or seen anything like this. It is peaceful and beautiful. Day Four In the early hours a burly man at the bow shouted "In the name of the Saints, man -- LAND!" We woke, rushed from our cabins sobbing, hugs all around. It should have been like that. What a long ride to Cozumel. I woke Wednesday morning and there it was. We were parked between two Carnival ships which looked whiter and bigger and more impressive than ours does. I wanted to start a shouting match across the pier, but I assume that is not done here. You're not going to believe this, but it's true: It was raining. I mean, coming down. This stopped no one. We hit the dock like it was Ellis Island. Who cares. We're outta here. Let's go buy some blankets! We did. My wife and I rode some horses led by a sweet 10 year old boy named Poncho. We rented a car and drove and drove. I wondered if the mosquitoes have malaria. We walked on the earth and it was good. Oh yes: The beach. Warm breeze. Skies cleared at last. The water came up to the beach, blue or azure or something. We met and fell in love. That's it. You know what it's like. Just the sound of the ocean, the long view of the water, whitecaps laughing, and sun. Those things envelope you. They surround and protect you. It is effortless to stand there. It is an invitation: give up the stress and anxiety; you don't need it here. Meanwhile, back at the ship, trouble in paradise: First, the captain informed us that the Grand Cayman Islands were, for practical purposes, washed away by Michelle. So we won't be stopping there, either. Oh. That left Cozumel and Ocho Rios. That's it. This did not sit well with a lot of people, who wanted some money back for the inconvenience. I think we booked a cruise in November. That's hurricane season. I know it's at the end of the season. But it's still hurricane season. It says so anywhere you look for that kind of information. One way I know this is true is that our cruise was discounted. So we got a discount for taking the chance that we'd get screwed. Which we did. You can't have it both ways, taking the discount and then shouting no fair when the event that inspired it occurs. That's unreasonable. But to me, the main thing is this. I left out part of my Cozumel story. Because we rented a car, and because we were in a strange place, and because I'm a typical male, we got completely lost and I never once asked for directions, because of course I don't need directions. I know where I'm going. Just give me a second. I'm sure about this. No wait. I think I recognize that thing over there... We drove around a lot. We wound up in the non-tourist section of the city. These consist of streets filled with water lined by shacks. There were some regular type homes, made of cement or whatever. But mostly they were that weird kind of corrugated metal on four sides with some kind of roof. Shacks. We drove slowly through these streets because I didn't want to drive into a puddle that would turn out to be a six foot pothole. Some people rode by on bicycles. I remember one guy riding a bicycle with his girlfriend sitting on the bar, there. She was wearing a dress and simple beige pumps. I remember this because her dress and her shoes were clean and dry. I was surprised they could ride through all that water and he could keep her dry that way. It looked like they were riding to work. A lot of people stood on corners. They were talking or smoking. And there were dogs everywhere. Just wandering around. But what I wanted to tell you about is one girl. We drove past a shack on a corner. She was sitting on the ground in front of her house. She was, I guess, two years old. She wore a little dress. She had short black hair. I have a little girl at home, seventeen months. So this girl caught my eye. And we looked at each other briefly as we drove by. I don't know if my wife saw her. But we stopped talking for a minute, and we never said anything about it. I know we work hard. I work hard. I'll bet the other people here work hard. I think most people do. But there is not a passenger on this boat who is not simply lucky to be here. We left last night. On to Ocho Rios. My wife's sleeping in. I have to play ping pong. Day 5 En route to Ocho Rios, we have a lull in the action. Let me bring you up to date on a few details I've overlooked, like our cabin, the passengers, the service, the entertainment and the food. The cabin We booked the penthouse suite. Not that we could afford to do that, but my plan was to go on this cruise and then not do this sort of thing again for ten years. Now that we've discovered how great it is, we have the predictable problem of wanting to go again, but so be it. So here's the deal. It's basically a hotel room type of suite with some exceptions: there are little halogen lights in the ceiling. There are dimmer switches everywhere. There is a foyer and a guest bathroom which I use while my wife hovers forever in the main bathroom. There is a statue in the dining room of a young woman dressed in robes suggesting she's from ancient Greece or that she's just someone who enjoys wearing robes. I notice in passing that she has nicely shaped breasts. If you think that's an odd thing to notice, believe me: your husband notices that too. There is a verandah which is great to have as you know. The bathroom has a big tub with whirlpool jets that we have not yet used. Above the tub is a fresco of an angry looking man with a crab crawling up his face. I assume this is a Greek God of some kind because I understand that they got upset a lot. Maybe it's just the crab that's annoying him. Anyway, there's a faucet coming out of his mouth. That could be pissing him off too. Who knows. Adjoining the bath are two sinks. Adjoining the sinks is a hallway bordered by closets -- a walk-in closet. This is the one thing that, of all the things in the suite that I didn't think a person needs, I've really come to enjoy having. It's really nice to put all your clothes in a walk-in closet, and then to just walk in there and pick and choose what you want. I don't know if it's convenience or luxury or what. But I notice I like going into the walk-in closet to get some clothes. There is a separate shower, and the shower has all these hidden jets that, with a twist of the knob, will shoot out a painful stream of water at your genitals. Maybe this a rich person thing, I don't know. There is a separate bathroom in the main bathroom which houses the toilet, a sink, and what I think is a bidet. The bidet, of course, is designed to provide you with an unusually clean anus. And I think if you would like your anus to be sparkly clean, well damn it, I'm for that, too. So that's the bath room. There's a dining room and a living room and a bed room, all nice. The astonishing thing about this suite, though, is not the accoutrements. It's the service. Our steward, Yusnar, is the most endearing attentive person you could hope for on a cruise. On our first night my wife was cold. We added to our blanket two of those small "throw-blankets” from the living room. We left those on the bed the next day and left our cabin. When we came back that night, the bed was made with two blankets, and the throw blankets were back in the living room. This week has been like that. He takes care of us. The service on the ship has mirrored that kind of attention. Kind, thoughtful people work here. The passengers We like them. Some of the people in the elevators seem to be in a bad mood. That puts me in a better mood because I'm shallow. I do notice one thing I should have noticed sooner but which became apparent to me only on the first sunny day, two days ago. I was walking by the pool where for the first time a lot of people sat sun bathing. We are fat. Please don't think I exclude myself. I am going to put on swim shorts and go to the pool this afternoon and it is not going to be pretty. “Natural disaster" comes to mind. I don't think this is our fault. There is food everywhere. There are 50 ways to relax. And frankly, I think getting on a boat like this to run yourself ragged in a gym is crazy. I think it is our DUTY to get fat. And what we have here is a boatload of incredibly responsible people. There were clues to our general condition. On the first day our captain said we should grab our life jackets for the drill but that if we didn't have them available, "don't worry about it."  The food It's good. I shovel it in. The entertainment We've seen some movies on tv. At our dinner table the other night we were talking about Castaway, with Tom Hanks and the volleyball. The question was, was the girl engaged to Tom Hanks when his plane went down right to give up on him so she could marry the other guy, thinking Tom Hanks was dead? Or should she have waited for him? Lucy said she should have waited for him, but I said no, she was right to give up on him because women only have so long to make babies, so she had to make her move. This did not go over well with Lucy. Apparently I wasn't supposed to say that. The next night, kaboom: Lucy was said lawyers want to hurt people and doctors want to help people. We're sitting with her boyfriend, who is a doctor. And I'm a doctor. But the truth is, I don't think much of doctors, in general. And I like lawyers, who are often funny and open minded. Sometimes there's a moment in a conversation where you know you have two completely different choices. Make one choice and everything will be all right. Make the other, and look out. And you have to decide, then and there, which road you and your table will do down. As I considered this, I expected that my wife and I would be eating in our suite for the rest of the cruise. I thought that would be ok. So we went at it: Lucy, her boyfriend and me, with Paul and Carla and my wife looking on -- I was so engaged in the battle that I couldn't look over at them to see what they were thinking. It was fast and furious. And to make matters worse, I dropped a bomb. I told them I thought Bill Clinton was a great president. Oh no! Michelle was a soothing sauna next to this! Through it all I told myself, keep it on the issues. Don't let it get personal. This was not easy. Lucy's boyfriend kept telling me how naive I am, and that when I'm older I'll understand things as he does. I'm FORTY TWO. How old do you have to get? In Mozart's day I'd have been dead for seven years by now! Day 6 I see Cuba passing by. An hour ago a lady in the Lido cafe said We should sink it. Because of Castro. Sink the island? I said. Well, she said. It's Saturday. Last full day. I'm ready to go. We need to start cleaning up after ourselves again. But what a ride. I told you the captain told us we had had to skip the Grand Caymans because we couldn't dock there. But in the Lido lounge we run into our dinner companions who say another ship docked in the Caymans yesterday. No problem at all! Only thing closed was the turtle farm! Everything else was ok! No! Yes! I don't think there's a bunch of passengers our captain will be happier to see get off his boat. Everybody wants their port charges back, and why did he do the foxtrot around the hurricane and how come the toilet didn't flush and -- HE needs a cruise. We get to Ocho Rios yesterday and dock three hours later than scheduled, and we'd have to leave at 4 p.m. that day, yesterday, to make it back to Fort Lauderdale tomorrow morning. Strong headwinds, or tailwinds. The guy CAN'T get a break! The boat docks. From the verandah I watch everyone get off. My wife is sleeping. (We sleep a lot.) I see this tour director type of girl on the dock holding a bunch of tickets. Suddenly half the tickets blow into the bay. We watch them flutter into the water and sink. The tour girl turns to the other tour girl and says, I want to go home. I finish my coffee and wash up and go down to the dock. It’s 1:30 pm. I walk through Ocho Rios. A billion signs and shops and cars and people selling everything. Trinkets hash girls insurance drinks trinkets bags food hash jewelry bags food hair products cab rides tours hey look over here... What a headache. I get to a neighborhood, meet Sonia and David, pay them for a walking tour and we walk and talk. The neighborhood looks like what you think it looks like. David, 35, wears a rastafarian hat. Sonia, missing her front left upper incisor, takes care of babies -- child care -- nearby. I ask David, why aren't you working now? He has a gauze dressing on his forehead where he banged his head diving for something. So he can't dive for now. So how do you live now? He gives tours. I learn about three numbers: 10 -- number of US dollars you earn working one day in the pineapple factory. 15 -- percentage of high school graduates who can get a job with a living wage. 40 -- the age of David's father when he died of heart disease. I meet Sonia's child care kids, 8 or 9 little girls. They're washing clothes in a basin with a scrub board. One of them draws a picture of the sun with a smiley face for my daughter. I tell her what a beautiful picture that is; she smiles. A guy comes over and we shake hands. He asks for money for food. He has tar on his hands. He fixes roofs. I give him five dollars. He says, "All one colour, man." We say goodbye, I thank Sonia and David and go back to the ship. A friend of Sonia's walks with me, asks for money for food, I say no, she walks away. Back on the ship, more trouble in paradise. At dinner Lucy's boyfriend interrupts her to say something. I don't remember what he said.  Lucy turns around to him, and says, "Do you mind?" Very slowly. Looking him right in the eye. He is stunned and embarrassed, doesn't say a word. Lucy turns slowly back around to me. We continue talking and as we do, I realize this will be our last dinner together. If this is the cost of talking with these people, I'd rather eat with my wife who's good company by herself. The night after Ocho Rio we saw this movie in the movie theater so we could have some popcorn. The movie, Green Fingers. was about this guy who goes to prison after killing his brother when he finds his brother in bed with his beloved. The guy feels terrible about this, but that's the way it goes. He becomes an amazing gardener. On a work release program years later he and his fellow inmates begin an amazing garden in this woman's home where he meets Primrose, the lovely daughter of Miss Wodehouse, a lunatic wealthy woman who loves flowers above all else. Released from prison, he falls in love with Primrose and becomes their gardener. Back at the prison, the inmates have entered into a contest at Buckingham Palace for best garden. But without whatshisname, they have no chance! So he commits a petty theft so he can go back to prison to lead their gardening effort! He leaves Primrose a note before he commits the crime. The note says, Hey, sorry, but I'm a gardener. Then we went to the Rembrandt Lounge to watch a car crash in the form of a song and dance revue. I made it through four songs, and then they wanted the audience to join in, singing Wasting Away Again in Margaritaville, and I told my wife, I'm outta here, and we went to the Lido Lounge for food, because it had been THREE HOURS since we'd eaten, and then we rolled ourselves down the stairs, had a black russian and went to bed. Day Six Our cruise is almost over. The internet cafe will close tonight, so I have to wrap this up, and I'm going to do it as simply as I can. I have two reactions to our first cruise: Cruising is a lovely experience: a stunning vacation imbued with leisure and tasteful luxury (except for the floor shows). I'm glad we did it and I hope to do it again. My second reaction emanates from the disturbing clash presented by wealth and poverty placed next to each other. You know what I mean. What I thought about Ocho Rios was: these people have nothing to lose, and that is dangerous for us. As a practical matter, in terms of protecting my family, I wonder about the wisdom of ignoring the disparity between my life and the lives of the people I met this week. I think ignoring this disparity, or rationalizing it by saying it is inevitable or it is their fault or we should just sink Cuba or whatever, may be a dumb move for our country. Also, I have been thinking about a line from the Bible that I read 20 years ago, which astonished me then. I should tell you I am not a religious person, although I was raised Catholic. For instance, I don't believe in God. And if I did believe in God, I think the church would go to hell for the way it treats gays. So when I finally read the Bible, in college, it was only because I thought it might be a good book which as you know better than I do it was. Anyway, in one part of the new testament, Christ says this: Where your wealth is, there will your heart be also. As we approach Fort Lauderdale on this lovely ship, carrying with me a little girl's drawing of the sun, having made a glancing acquaintance with the circumstances of her life, I do wonder what I should invest in, next time around.

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Sep 30, 2001

Western Caribbean

This was our honeymoon cruise. We chose Holland America because we had heard many good things about their staff and service. On these points we were not disappointed. The service and food were truly excellent. We had been upgraded from a mini suite to a suite and were stunned by the space in the suite. The room was spotless and despite rarely seeing our room steward things were kept neat and tidy at all times. One thing we did not like

was having to telephone the front desk when we needed our steward, There should have been a room buzzer. We had pre-ordered the "just for us" honeymoon package but it had been delivered to the wrong stateroom. Within 2 hours we had champagne, roses and chocolates delivered by smiling attendants. The Maasdam is lacking in the following areas: Poor sight lines in the Rembrandt theatre, regardless where one sat. Either our sight was hampered by the person in front or guard rails. Forgettable shows and ordinary acts. Most singers had difficulty finding the right notes. There was little in the way of stage props or theatre sets. The shopping promenade was rather limited in choice. One shop did not carry more than suntan lotion SPF 15.which is not strong enough to combat the Caribbean sun! Apart from those quibbles the Maasdam is a lovely ship. Well kept, flowers everywhere attractive lounges, pleasant personnel and terrific value for money. Now we come to the excursions! At Grand Cayman we were ripped off in one of the main souvenir shops. For example there are two prices on goods. One in Cayman dollars and one in American. The Cayman prices were far less than the American and yet we were charged the U.S prices which indicated to me that the Cayman dollar was more valuable than the U.S. dollar!! In Ocho Rios the endless pushing for tips by the guides was so very annoying. Surely Holland America could say something about this to the people in charge of excursions. I'll never go there again. Still those irritations did not take away our enjoyment. The weather was simply perfect throughout our trip We are greatly looking forward to our next cruise.

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Aug 12, 2001

Eastern Caribbean

Cabin #362- Voyage #299   What We Liked About the Cruise: Plenty of room to roam without shipboard congestion Friendly, interactive staff Ship was easy to board and exit Nice movie-theater with free popcorn Plenty of deck chairs and tables Food and beverages available all afternoon Afternoon tea with appropriate snacks and music Afternoon coffee/tea bar with cappuccino, snacks, and other option Easy to understand

overhead announcement sound system Better-than-average cabins Very nice captain's reception Knowledgeable, affable, personable cruise director Fast, readily available elevators Good on-board direction-markers Orderly, thoughtfully planned, embark and disembark procedures          Negatives about the Maasdam that are worth noting: SMELL:  We'd read about the stench that greets newcomers when first traversing the hallways. You eventually get used to the septic system-like odor, but it does get things underway on a negative track. There should be some way of deodorizing these areas. DINING ROOM: Food is served in a very attractive, upscale setting. We were warned that  Maasdam food is heavily salted, and it was just that. Despite our requesting unsalted, non-spiced food, certain dishes were still very spicy and salty. After sending back several entrees, we settled for plain vegetables accompanied by a baked potato.          We felt that we were being pushed or rushed through our evening meal. Staffers appeared to be eager to get us served and get us out of the dining room. Succeeding courses were served in a rapid, staccato-like manner. Rather than being able to enjoy a leisurely dinner, we felt that the service was more like that of a fast-food eatery.          Table service during breakfast and lunch was varied and unpredictable. Some guests didn't get their eggs without seeking out a server and inquiring about their order. Dishes were served that weren't as ordered, or they were really intended for someone else. Pastries and rolls are baked on board and are very good. Bagels were served slightly charred, more often than not. Maasdam's servers (other than for the baked Alaska) didn't do the typical entertainment antics that we'd come to expect on other ships. They serve up the food and smile a lot, but that's about it. Alex, our dining room steward was concerned, accommodating and eager to right the wrongs of the kitchen staff. He was fighting a losing battle. To be totally fair, several  tablemates praised the taste and appearance of some items that were served. Our evaluation of the dining department is that it did not measure up to that which we'd experienced on other cruise lines. Even the veggie burgers were highly seasoned and salty. Some other comments as respects our adventures in the dining room: We found it quite incredible that guests who preferred soft drinks to tea or coffee had to pay about $1.75 for the privilege of drinking Coke at the dining room table. It is possible to purchase a one-week soft drink ticket, but alternate, non-alcoholic beverages at the dinner table would appear to be a part of the meal and should be complimentary. This is something we'd never experienced on other cruise lines. Then too, if someone at our table were celebrating a birthday or anniversary, the staff would serve the cake as dessert, not asking guests if they'd also like to order from the dessert menu. The flyer that is handed out for the kitchen tour is riddled with spelling, punctuation and grammatical errors. For a ship that aims for perfection, this is not really acceptable.  MOVIE THEATER: The Maasdam's movie theater is easily accessed in the atrium area. The seats were typical theater style, though somewhat on the hard side. The selection of films was excellent but guests complained that the sound track was often too soft and unintelligible. We expressed our complaint to the front desk and the next film we viewed was definitely louder. However, when we returned to watch a movie the next day, the sound track had defaulted to its lower-volume status. Trudy went to the front desk and requested that they contact the projection booth and ask the operator to turn up the volume once again. Several minutes later the volume was turned up and we were able to enjoy the movie. Unless the default is changed, or projectionists are told to crank up the gain control, this would appear to be an ongoing problem. The theater seemed to be liberally sprinkled with speaker systems, but the sound quality did not measure up to the equipment that was in the room. CABINS: Our cabin had a large view window, ample storage space, a bathtub-equipped bathroom, limited TV selections, remote control, and a very ingenious switching system that enabled us to control almost all the room's lights from our bed, fresh fruit and ice were supplied by the room attendant. Classical music could be turned on by a control built into the bed's headboard. We were advised to bring a clock-radio, but there wasn't an outlet at bedside to plug it in. There isn't an electric-shaver outlet in the bathroom. There were numerous complaints about the ship's air-conditioning system. Several guests complained to us that their rooms were uncomfortably warm, and nothing was done to resolve the problem. On Sunday morning, we observed several floor fans being taken out of cabins that were down the hall from us.  Their usage confirms that these rooms were indeed uncomfortable and not adequately air-conditioned. Since the ship was filled to capacity, room changes were not an option. Various public areas seemed to be uncomfortably warm too. The ship was immediately going out on a Western Caribbean cruise, so it's doubtful that the apparent shortcomings in the air-conditioning system were resolved prior to embarkation. Indications were that this was an ongoing, unresolved problem. Then there was the "toilet problem." Towards the mid-point of the cruise we noticed that our toilet wasn't flushing on command. If we waited a while-sometimes quite a while-the toilet would ultimately flush. But on the final morning of the cruise it refused to flush at all. Trudy reported the problem to our cabin steward while I sought out public restroom facilities. Then, quite suddenly, without human intervention, the toilet started flushing on its own. I'm glad I wasn't sitting on it when it decided to do the self-flushing routine! Our cabin steward advised that a group of toilets in this area of the ship were having similar problems. As was the case with the air-conditioning, we doubt that repairs were made to assure that ensuing guests wouldn't have to endure this inconvenience. Finally, there were wide cracks in our bathroom sink. This, by itself, is not a big deal. However, guests could interpret it as a sign that maintenance crews are either unable or unwilling to make needed cabin repairs.    ENTERTAINMENT: The Maasdam's activities and entertainment menu was not up to the level of professionalism and intensity that we'd experienced on other ships. Vegas-style reviews were not in evidence, although a small dance group did an excellent job on the few occasions that they performed for us. The handbill that provides biographical sketches of cast members is in dire need of a healthy re-write. The ship's evening entertainment was anchored by a comedian and a ventriloquist---fine performers but hardly a match for the extravaganzas we'd enjoyed on previous cruises. The Maasdam's house band was slick and professional, but some of the other musicians aboard the ship lacked similar skills. The poolside steel drum band was on the loud side, making conversation in the area almost impossible. CONCLUSION: The Maasdam is a gorgeous ship, but obviously in need of a routine overhaul. Friendly, courteous staffers from Indonesia and the Philippines applied their skills to help make our excursion pleasant and memorable. There was much to commend, but based on our observations and the experiences of other passengers, there is much that can be improved. We would've preferred to have softer, more-comfortable seats in the public areas too.  Would we return for an encore? Possibly. But we'd check things out much more thoroughly before embarking on another Holland America Line cruise. Trudy & Sid Kleiner [email protected]

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Aug 12, 2001

Eastern Caribbean

Twelve of us signed up to take Holland America's cruise to the Eastern Caribbean from August 12th to August 19th.  This is because we were invited by a good friend and mentor (Monsignor Cannon) who had been invited to be the ship's priest.  At the time, Monsignor was undergoing dialysis and we were surprised to learn that Holland America had the facility to provide dialysis treatment. We were all looking forward to the cruise

with Monsignor when the travel agent called to tell us he passed away (two weeks before we were to set sail).  After much soul searching, we decided to go anyway, believing this is what he would want us to do and intending to celebrate his life by wishing him Bon Voyage aboard the Maasdam. Most of us flew in the night before the cruise was set to sail.  This was to assure we didn't "miss the boat".  We selected the Hampton Inn & Suites in Ft. Lauderdale.  We were all very impressed with this affordable hotel which was only 2 miles from Port Everglades.  It was clean and definitely a good value.  Further, they provided transportation to Port Everglades (where the ship took off from) at NO CHARGE. When we arrived at the dock, check in was a breeze.  This is because Holland America was extremely organized.  My husband, niece and I were fortunate to have priority boarding because we had secured a mini-suite.  The rest of our group boarded later but told us that their experience was also pleasurable. Our suite was located on the Navigation Deck (right underneath the pool deck).  Unfortunately, there was a pipe that burst on our floor, causing a water problem in some of the suites.  Although it did not affect our room, the smell from the water problem was noticeable for a few days. Our mini-suite was great.  It had a refrigerator, jacuzzi (with great jets), lots of storage space, a large TV and VCR, a mini-bar and, BEST OF ALL, a balcony.  I only wish the TV or VCR had Video/audio in plugs.  This is because I have a digital video camera and took my DVC to record our trip. It would have been nice to review the film on our TV. The first day we spent at sea (on our way to Nassau, Bahamas).  This gave us an opportunity to explore the ship.  I loved the lay-out.  Our room was strategically located at the stern of the boat, only one floor below the BUFFET DECK (the Lido Lounge!) and only two floors above the sit down dining room (ROTTERDAM DINING ROOM). In a nutshell, and to make a long story short, I loved our cruise.  This was made possible by the quality of the people who worked for the Holland American Line.  They were not just cleaners, and waiters, and hair dressers, etc.  They were REAL people.  They went out of their way to make us feel special.  They all had names (not just faces).  Suantara, Andi, Gde and Ferry took care of our two tables of six in the sit down dining room.  Although we had three children under the age of 8, this didn't phase them a bit.  They treated the children with as much respect and deference as the adults. We also met great people in the Piano Bar and Ocean Bar.  In fact, the piano player in the piano bar (Manum) was an incredible talent.  You couldn't help but get into the mood of things after hearing her sing and play the piano.  We were waited upon by Edgar and Nestor.  They ingratiated themselves by making us a special Holland America hat complete with their own free- form artwork and our calligraphied names.  In the Ocean Bar we found Rey.  He was truly one of my favorites.  He also made my husband and I a Holland America Hat, complete with art-work and our calligraphied names.  The crew in the Ocean Bar also specialized in making Orgami.  I was lucky enough to get a rose. The ship's "announcer", Eric,  was a real plus.  He provided some continuity to this experience.  Although I suspect that some on board may have tuned him out, I derived a certain pleasure out of his daily messages.  I also enjoyed the bingo director, Shane.  He was pure comic relief at bingo. The ship also gets a plus for their Internet Cafe.  This Cafe boasted several computer terminals which allow you to send and receive e-mail.  This was definitely a far more affordable method of communicating at sea then using a ship-to-shore phone at a minimum cost of $15.00 per call plus .75 per minute.  In contrast, you can sign up for an unlimited Internet Cafe account for a flat $99.00 (good for the entire week). I also enjoyed many of the shipboard activities.  In fact, if you take a Holland American Cruise I strongly suggest that you attend the "Life Aboard Ship" presentation.  At our presentation we learned that Holland America caters to an older crowd.  On an average they have 200 children per trip (although our particular cruise had 300 children).  In contrast, Carnival Lines apparently averages 1100 children per ship.  Although I love children, this cruise was intended to be a vacation and with the limited number of kids we had aboard (including the three in our group) it remained a vacation. I definitely preferred the sit down meals to the buffet meals.  Service is what this cruise was all about. I was amazed that we never saw the person who cleaned our room (Dai) until the last day.  It was almost as if he knew when we wouldn't be in our cabin.  After breakfast, our room was always restored to normalcy (bed made, bathroom cleaned, etc.) and after dinner we returned to find our beds turned down, with chocolates on our pillows. The gang in the salon was a real riot.  My favorite was Len, although Martin was a close second.  Len specializes in Reflexology.  Martin specializes in just about everything else! One of the other highlights of the trip was the new ship's priest (Father Frank) who was assigned to sit at our table as a result of Monsignor Cannon's untimely demise.  Suffice it to say that Father Frank's presence was truly a God send and I am sure there is a message in there somewhere. Although we enjoyed San Juan and St. Thomas as ports-of-call, my favorite place was Holland America's private beach, Half Moon Cay (pronounced "key"). I could go on, but feel it's time to summarize.  The Maasdam was just "big" enough for our group.  I prefer it to the bigger ships (particularly the last cruise we took on the Carnival line). The Holland America was an incredibly CLEAN SHIP.  More importantly, I can't say enough about the wonderful people Holland America employed to make our vacation such a memorable experience.  I was also impressed by the special services and consideration Holland America Line extends to the old and disabled.  But for Monsignor Cannon, our group would not have taken this cruise.  If not, we would have never met the wonderful people we did meet.  As such, a special thanks to the Holland America Lines, the crew of the Maasdam, and especially Father Frank for helping us cope with the death of a dear friend and mentor whose spirit will always be a part of our lives.

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Dec 10, 2000

Western Caribbean

This cruise was my first cruise ever, as my fiancée and I usually bare charter sailboats in Italy or Turkey. We are both from Munich, Germany so please excuse my spelling mistakes. Summary upfront: This cruise was the most fascinating, relaxing and overall satisfying holiday we ever had. And we have been in many nice places. The ship was tiptop, the crew was the friendliest with the best service I ever experienced and the on board-program

was pure fun. And to my very surprise, the average age of the crowd was not as old as everybody said. As a matter of fact we met more than 40 people between 25 and 40 and had a great time. Up's: -Service without one single exception -Food was very special -Cleanliness was fabulous -Entertainment was very good (except the magician) -Availability of pool chairs (never short) -SPA -Friendliness of the officers Down's: -Only the noodles were nothing special, but I'm used to Italian kitchen, so I'm maybe not representative -Prices of the shore excursions -The way everybody was pushed to shop and buy with special offers all the time made me feel like on a bus tour sometimes. Especially when they (shore excursions) frightened people to make them come on organized tours. Fresh fruit was plenty and always available, but not too tasty. (Maybe because it would rot to fast, if it is to ripe) So after all I would sail with HA again and I will not look for other lines, because everybody said that they are the best and NOBODY complained about important any things. The only thing I would make different, is that I would organize my land excursions myself. Especially in Jamaica, where everybody says how dangerous it is. Not true, you only have to pay attention whether your cabby sells ganschee. If not, go with a cab and I bet you'll have more fun. Advice: Don't go alone, take at least one other man or impressive woman with you. So again this whole thing was wonderful, go for it, you'll have a blast  If you have any questions, you are welcome to email me.

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Nov 30, -0001

Western Caribbean

My family and I sailed on the Maasdam for the 2002 winter break, and had a highly enjoyable experience. Before going into detail, let me state that this is only my second cruise, and we were reluctant to be "cattle-carred" (as we thought) into a massive boat. With this in mind, we booked the Maasdam, which with 1200 passengers seemed like the perfect size ship. Boarding was a breeze; we drove the rental car to the Port Everglades port

(Ft Lauderdale) at 11 am and completed all the formalities within 30 minutes. Then spent a couple of hours in a coffee house and some last minute shopping, returned the car, and took the Avis bus directly to the ship. Our cabin was 829 on the A level (low and in the rear of the boat; booked late). Had a nice size window, and as Holland America advertises, a cabin larger than any other lines’ standard ones. Honestly, even with four of us (our 14 year old son on the bed lowered from the ceiling and our 8 year old daughter on the sofa bed) it was still very comfortable. When we unpacked, I realized that a wine bottle (fortunately white) had broken when the attendants unloaded the bags in the room. After some tense familial moments, I spoke with the front desk attendant, who immediately agreed to dry clean ALL affected clothes for free (quite a bit). Very professional response, and definitely set the week off on a good footing for all. The service – impeccable. It is true, the cabin steward is hard to find, yet the room is always spotless. I have never been anywhere where there was so much cleaning going on. The boat is now 10 years old, yet is in pristine condition. The bathroom was perfectly clean, with a nice tub/shower combination. Plenty of closet space (enough for four), and clean linens. Most of the crew is from Indonesia or the Philippines. There were always smiles and a ‘can do’ attitude. The kids club (club HAL), had a friendly crew, and a very relaxed attitude (all activities free; drop in any time). And the dining staff was incomparable. The servers were responsive, friendly and extremely hard-working. Food – superb. It’s hard to complain about the food in the main dining room at all. A very good selection, reasonably priced wines, seconds no problem, a beautiful Christmas Eve dinner, great sensitivity to special requests, etc. Excellent Lobster tails, escargot, rack of lamb, etc. After the first night, we wanted very much to switch to early seating. The steward accommodated, provided we join another couple. Helen and Bernice were a delight, and we all looked forward to the dinners together. The other food choice was in the Lido restaurant, which had a nice assortment of cold dishes and some so-so hot food. Note: the pizza was from a wood-burning oven and excellent. The only (minor) disappointment was with the midnight buffets, which didn’t seem very elaborate. My only point of comparison was ten years ago, so maybe these aren’t quite what they used to be. Holiday Cheer – The captain and crew did a beautiful job with a Christmas Eve celebration, including some caroling from the crew, special meal, gifts for the kids, etc. A nice touch. Entertainment – Holland America needs help here. While the magician was terrific, the comedian was pretty good, and Vinnie (singer) was top notch, the ‘cast’ of the Maasdam, which provided Vegas-style reviews, was woeful. Reminded me of a poor attempt at a Disney celebration or an ‘Up with People’ high school group. I realized how weak they were when we had passenger talent night, which was significantly better and more entertaining! Bingo was standard (save for a major dispute on the jackpot as to who the real winners were), and the cruise director was average at best. Ports of Call – This cruise had an extra day at Sea due to the Christmas sailing. Cozumel was interesting (I highly recommend the jeep tour for a family) and in Progresso we spent a nice day in Merida (pretty Colonial city). Key West was a waste of time (way too touristic and cold), and the private Bahamian island was an enjoyable beach day. I wouldn’t recommend this one for the ports of call. Overall Experience – The Maasdam is a great boat. At about 55,000 tons, it’s considered small by today’s standards. We found the size to be a major asset; large enough to explore but not so large as to get lost in the shuffle. The Captain and crew are VERY professional; ship is spotless and the food superb. Entertainment? If this is what you’re looking for, I’d recommend a trip to Vegas or Broadway. Relaxation? YES. Kids activities? OK since it was a holiday cruise, although other lines probably focus more on these programs. We were satisfied. Non-stop activity? Look to Carnival for that. Would we book Holland America again? Definitely, but would look for more interesting itineraries. Hope you found this helpful. Happy to answer any questions.

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Nov 30, -0001

Eastern Caribbean

Badly needing a getaway, I booked an Eastern Caribbean cruise on the Maasdam. This was my first cruise alone, and I definitely had some reservations about it, but decided the timing and price were too good to turn down. I had cruised the Ryndam, Statendam and the Ocean Princess, all in Alaska, so I wanted something totally different. I booked my first verandah, and flew to Fort Lauderdale to start the cruise. I was not impressed

with my hotel, the Springhill Suites by Marriott, however, they did offer complimentary shuttle service from the airport and to the cruise ship, and that worked quite well. Check in was different than in Seward. I arrived at the cruise terminal about noon and went through the usual screening process, and flew through the lines to get my boarding cards. Boarding, according to my ticket, was 3pm, with a 5pm sailing, and the recommendation was to be onboard at least an hour before sailing. Thanks to posts on boards like this one, I determined boarding would begin about 1:15 - and it did, though at 1:30. I walked on the ship by 2:00. The 2 hour wait in the cruise terminal wasn't bad - it was very comfortable. A porter carried my carry-on bags and showed me to my mini suite, room 203. I was not particularly happy about being at the back of the ship, but that is the chance you take with a "guarantee" fare. The room was large and very nice, and the verandah was about 7' x 7' with a chair, table, and lounge chair. The verandah floor was the wooden deck common to HAL, and much nicer than Princess's astroturf. We sailed on time at 5, along with several mega ships and quickly left land behind. My cell phone was out of range by about 5:30, and I put it in the safe for a few days. On Monday morning, we visited Half Moon Cay, which is HAL's famous private island in the Bahamas, about 90 miles from Nassau. The time was announced as being one hour earlier, so I set my watch back, and sat on the verandah waiting for my "intermediate snorkeling" shore excursion. I went to the boarding lounge at 9:25, only to find out the time announcement was wrong, and that I had 5 minutes to board a tender, and get to the dock on the island to make the shore excursion. They moved me to the front of the line, and on the way to the island, I wondered how fun the snorkeling would be in the somewhat heavy seas - one wave threatened to go over the top of the lifeboat as we headed to the dock. Luckily, I missed the excursion, got a refund, and instead used the snorkeling area on the island. I got some good underwater pictures of colorful fish, and spent over 2 hours in the pellucid water. There is a barbecue on the island that runs until 1:30. I advise you not to be late. I arrived at 1:20, picked up some good ribs and sausage, and noticed they shut it down right on time. The only downer of being on the island was they started folding up the lawn chairs around 2:00, even though we did not have to be off the island until 3:30. I boarded a tender about 3:00 and the Maasdam sailed at 3:30 - earlier than we were scheduled, but Captain Schoonderbeek, also the Captain of my Statendam cruise, explained that the weather was turning bad fast, and the heavy seas made it impossible to even drop anchor there - he had used the engines to keep the ship in approximately the same spot all day. I had noticed the ship moving quite a bit during my beach time, but didn't think too much about it. We headed for Puerto Rico in light rain, but it cleared up shortly. The next day was a sea day, and there was not a lot to do. Workmen hammered for over 3 hours to get rust off the back railings of the ship. This drove me out of my stateroom, and was intolerable for anyone on the back third of the ship. I complained to the front desk, suggesting they do the maintenance when people were in port or between sailings. They said they were sorry, but the hammering continued. I watched a movie in the Wajang Theatre and attended the Royal Dutch Tea. The Captain announced that we were in 7-12 ft seas, and it began to take its toll on me. I took some of their motion sickness medicine and slept about 2 hours, after which I was fine. It's a good thing, because dinner was formal this evening. One of the concerns I had about taking this cruise alone was sitting through dinner with boring strangers. However, I had the best dinner companions of my four cruises, and looked forward to seeing them every evening. Everyone contributed to the conversation, and seemed interested in each other's opinions. I would cruise with them again anytime. The next morning we arrived in San Juan, and it was another beautiful day, though warm and humid. I did not like any of the shore excursions offered by HAL, so I walked out to the end of the pier and booked a $15 city tour, which was quite nice. They showed us the historic forts of San Juan, and drove us around for a couple of hours. San Juan is a pretty city, nicer than I expected, but not worthy of the 16 hour stay we had on this cruise. The tour bus driver let us out downtown with directions on how to walk back to the ship, but they were wrong, so I got to see more of San Juan on foot than I expected. I returned to the ship before 2pm, and did not go back into town. The ship offered a special Caribbean barbeque for dinner, and it sounded good until I saw the dining room offered one of my favorites - Dover Sole. I couldn't pass it up, but several of my dinner partners, and perhaps a third of the dining room went to the barbeque. The sole was great, and all three of us got it after my bragging on it. The report of the barbecue was not all that positive, but mainly because it was too crowded and noisy. At midnight, the Captain pulled the ship away from the pier and headed the short distance - 78 miles - to St Thomas in the US Virgin Islands. Despite being on the Verandah deck (floor 9), I got a lot of vibration whenever the maneuvering thrusters were used, or anytime the ship was moving at flank speed. This is one of the joys of being at the back of a 10 year old ship. I had a snorkel tour planned for the afternoon, but nothing in the morning, so I thought I would again go to the end of the pier and pick up a cheap tour. Not this time. I did get a $3 cab ride into town in the back of a pickup though. All of the tours I could find started in the afternoon, so I approached a cab driver about doing a private tour, and she offered it for $35, including a stop at KMart and a ride back to the ship. This worked out very well, as Julianne was very charming, and took me to all the cool spots on the island for exactly as long I wanted to be there. St. Thomas is beautiful, and I plan to get back there some day to spend more time. I returned to the Maasdam in the early afternoon to prepare for my snorkeling trip aboard the Leylon Sneed. The Sneed pulled up at the dock next to the Maasdam, so it was a short walk to board her. We set sail for a FOUR hour tour to St John, and one of the top 10 beaches in the world, Trunk Beach. The water started getting rough, but thanks to the efforts of the crew, we would NOT be lost. We had a delightful young lady from Alaska do some narration, and then handed it off to other crew member. This was a beautiful, though somewhat rough cruise, and many movie sites were pointed out along the way. We moored about 1/4 mile off of Trunk Beach, and were given 3 choices. Take a dinghy to the beach, jump off the back of the boat, or climb down a ladder with fins on. I took the third option, and was down the ladder before I knew it. The water was cool and beautiful, and about 20 ft deep. Lots of amazing fish, coral, and other strange features were in the water. I took some pictures, and swam around for over an hour. A very nice experience, though I did swallow my share of water thanks to the waves. On the way back to St Thomas, the crew served complimentary rum punch, which was guaranteed to remove the saltwater taste, and it did. It also helped me deal with the rough water. Everyone seemed to have a great time, and we were back at the Maasdam at 4:29 (all aboard was 4:30). We sailed at 5 for Nassau. The ship headed back into moderate seas, and the Captain said this is the way the Atlantic usually is. We were at sea the next day and a half, and arrived in Nassau at about 1:30pm. I had an excursion to Stingray City planned, and we had to walk over a half mile to the boat to take us there, as Nassau does not allow buses or small boats to visit their dock (though I did see one for older people). About 55 of us boarded the small boat, which then passed within 50 ft of the Maasdam. We passed Atlantis, and a lot of beautiful scenery and expensive homes, including those owned by Oprah and Michael Jackson, on the way to Stingray City. We had to sign forms that waived any right to sue the vendor, as "snorkeling is inherently dangerous". That was a confidence builder, just before I got in the drink with some giant rays with 10 inch stingers. Stingray City was a little smaller than I expected - about the size of an average restaurant. The area was fed by the ocean, but fenced in to keep the rays in and other things out. There was a stairway into the pen, and lots of large dark spots moving quickly through the water. We were told we couldn't wear fins, but I had my snorkeling suit and water booties on. I swam around while the beginners were taught how to snorkel. It was pretty cool watching the rays swim below me, and there were a lot of colorful fish as well. Once the beginners entered the water though, it became overly crowded, and some brought some food in with them. This got the rays excited (they were about 6 ft long and about 4 ft wide according to the guides), and one stuck to my side for a while. This was a little closer than I wanted to be, so I swam off. A ray on the bottom spotted me and swam straight up to stick his face right on my chest. After a while I realized the staff (with the food) were all black, and I had a black suit on, which made me a potential feeder to the rays. One of the staff was holding a white ray, and he said it was only one of two in the world. Everyone was petting it and he was holding it out of the water at times. I touched it, and it was slick and slimy. Once he let it go, I tried to follow it to get some pictures, but it headed to the far end of the pen and buried itself in sand. I had the impression it had had more human contact than it wanted. I got tired of bumping into people and being violated by rays in the pen, so I got out after about 40 minutes, had some rum punch, and took the trip back to Nassau. It was relaxing, but the boat was so slow that even 2 passenger outboards were flying by us. We got back to the dock about 90 minutes before sailing, so I went into some shops, but didn't like anything, so I headed back to the Maasdam. I'm glad I did this tour, but would not do it again. I prefer nature to captive animals. There were six other ships in port with us in Nassau, and all were larger. We had only the end of the farthest pier. The Captain said most ports give preference to the larger ships, which is why HAL is building the Vista series (Zuiderdam, Oosterdam, Westerdam...). We sailed at 7pm, after 3 of the other ships. It was a beautiful moonlit night as we left the Bahamas. We returned to Port Everglades in Ft Lauderdale the following morning, and I had a final breakfast served on my verandah just before sunrise. It was the end of an excellent cruise. We docked at about 7:45am and I was off the ship and through customs by 9:40. Regarding the cruise in general, I was very happy with what I got for the price. However, it is evident HAL has had to cut back in the wake of 9/11. On my previous HAL cruises, the room steward would get your room cleaned while you were at breakfast. That no longer happened, but at least the noisy cart used in hotels and on Princess was not rattling in the halls. The food was very good - no cutbacks here, in fact, they now have some of the fruity, cold soups that I enjoyed on Princess, and the hot soups were better too. Bread was also improved. The service suffered a little, as the assistant waiter position has been eliminated - though the busboy seemed to do some of that work. Also gone are the nightly flambe's, though we did have one. An innovative dessert, which I believe they called Mombo Number 5, a fancy watermelon pie - complete with chocolate "seeds" was served on one of the nights to everyone, and Baked Alaska was still going strong on another night. While the name "Norwalk" was never mentioned, evidently there was a small outbreak of illness early in the cruise. The salt and pepper shakers disappeared, and bread was served individually by the already overtaxed waiter, instead of in the usual community basket. A letter from the Captain explained that there was an outbreak, and these and other measures, including closing the hot tubs, and no self service in the Lido restaurant, were implemented for the remainder of the cruise. The crew's diligence in this matter was appreciated. The entertainment on HAL, traditionally average, was no better on this cruise. I went to all the shows except one, and that one was a combination of 3 acts I had already seen. The shows are family oriented, and beat sitting in your stateroom or a bar, but probably will not be memorable. All in all, it was a great experience. If I could afford the time and money, I would go again tomorrow. Thanks to Rod, Leon, Susan and Sherri for their encouragement on the snorkeling - it was definitely worth it! As for HAL, I think they are doing the best they can in tough times. I like the Statendam-class ships and am very loyal to HAL, but may at times go on other lines. However, most any "dam" ship is good enough for me.

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Nov 30, -0001

Southern Caribbean

Maasdam is an older ship, but has been very well maintained. It's a wonderful size for extended, luxury cruising. With a little over 1200 passengers it offers a more intimate cruise with larger than normal cabins, all of which are very nicely appointed. Only the bathrooms show the ships age. We spent 2 weeks and went to 10 different islands, that all had something different to offer. The food was outstanding. Wonderful variety. Beautifully

presented. Definitely the top cruise line we have been on for food quality and choice. There is always some place on the ship to find food at most any hour. Free ice cream every afternoon until 5 PM. Spacious! Very, very comfortable bed, Comfy couch. Loads of closet space. Large desk and plenty of storage drawers. The bath was a bit tired looking and could use better storage or shelf space but the tub was great and everything functioned well. Always something to do, but not silly childish activities. Loved the daily trivia and the culinary classes. Movies could have been run at a more convenient time, but seldom had time to watch a full 2 hr. movie. Good dance classes and interesting lectures. Fun parties! Loads of choices for shore excursions. The St. Kitts Sugar Train ride was delightful fun! St. Lucia had wonderful day long tours that offered lunch and a big variety of sights. The tour at Morne Coubaril Estate near Sourfriere, St. Lucia was fascinating and very informative. It was 2 weeks of being pampered and feed like a king. The service was top shelf in every department. There was a wonderful choice of entertainment and the entire 2 weeks was a touch of luxury! One of the most enjoyable asspects of the cruise is that while you could always get a drink quickly and easily, you were never bombarded with pushy waiter like so many cruise ships.

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Nov 30, -0001

Western Caribbean

This is my tenth cruise and Pam’s eleventh and our first on HAL. We have sailed the Ecstasy 96, Galaxy 99, Mercury 99, Sea Princess 00, Millennium 01, Zenith 01, Grand Princess 01, Summit 02, and NCL Star 02. In order for my review to have meaning to you, I think it is important to try and understand what type of person and cruiser Pam and I are. I am a type A vacationer who likes to snorkel, sail, and walk and look in shops. I rarely

use the casino, and I am not a big bar/disco person, so bars are not high on my list. My wife and I cruise to dine, meet other people, and to see the ports and relax. We are not big sun worshippers. Service is important, but I do not expect people to be perfect all the time. I just expect them to try and give their best effort. I also understand the difference between 5-star cruise cuisine and I don’t confuse or compare it to 5-star restaurant cuisine. The ship has to feed 800 to 1700 people per seating where a restaurant only feeds 200 a night. Please take my review as a critique and not complaining. This is My Humble Opinion that represents my tastes and biases, and with that said, here is my humble opinion of the HAL Maasdam. Preface We booked this cruise in March of this year. We have always wanted to try HAL and see how it compares to Celebrity and Princess. We were also looking for a good price and one that sailed this week in October. This left us with the Maasdam. I have mainly read good reviews on the Maasdam. The only main issue that I hear is the central air in the rooms leaves a little to be desired. Another good point is that we have done the western Caribbean six times (now to be our seventh) and this allows us to really relax because there is no rush to see Grand Cayman, Cozumel, or Ocho Rios. We really love the sea days so we were looking forward to a relaxing trip. Ft. Lauderdale I used Priceline to get a room for the Saturday night stay. I like staying in the 17th Street area that is close to the pier and the airport. I also like this part of town because you really don’t need a rental car if you don’t want to. There is plenty of shopping and restaurants within easy walking distance from most of the hotels. We ended up at the Embassy Suite on 17th Street. This was the first time that we have stayed at this property. We have stayed at the Amerisuites and Marriott Marina in this area. I would have to say the Marriott and the Embassy are the best. I know that there are many Amerisuites fans there and it is a fine place, but given a choice I would pay $10 to $20 more for the night stay at the Embassy over the Amerisuites. Once we arrived, it is a 15 to 20 minute walk up 17th street to the bridge. This is great exercise plus you can see the ships that are in port. This is the third straight year we have cruised from FLL during this week. I have never seen so few ships in port on Saturday. There were only two cruise ships (Century and another ship). That was it. FLL was not crowded at all. After that, we walked back to the Embassy dropped off some stuff and then went back down 17th St to have dinner at Bravo. It is in the same plaza as the Bimini Boatyard Restaurant with the Renaissance Hotel. We had heard great things on Bravo from DiveTex. It was well worth it. Mainly pasta type dishes with one fish special. Prices range from $10 to $25 a plate and most come with soup or salad. The salad was fresh and they bring it in a bowl and you dish it out on your plates. We had the garlic bread and it IS garlicky! Pam had the wheat pasta with marinara. Pam rated it as okay. I had the Pollo Siciliano which is breaded chicken breast that is then baked with egg plant, cheese, and tomato sauce with spaghetti with red sauce on the side. It was excellent, but I could only eat half. Had ice tea and it was fresh and brewed and was excellent. We then went down to the Eckerd drug store and got our bottled water and then went and bought a bottle of wine to take on board and went back to the Embassy. We had an 11:15 appointment to be taken to the piers by the Embassy. Embassy has shuttles that go every 30 minutes starting at 11:15 and you sign up for your time when you check in. I know that we probably couldn’t board until 1 or 1:30, but I would rather wait around the pier check-in area than the hotel. Checkout at the Embassy is noon. Embarkation: (A) We are always anxious to start our cruise so we like to board as soon as the cruise line will allow us. I like Celebrity in that they will normally let you board at 11 AM even if the rooms aren’t ready. You can drop your carry-ons in your room and then go to the public deck until they are ready at noon or 12:30 PM. HAL is not like that. From all the feedback I received, boarding doesn’t normally begin until 1PM to 1:30 PM. This seems tight with a 5 PM departure. We left the Embassy at 11:15. We were there by 11:30 AM. There were quite a few people there and they had not opened the doors for check in yet. We dropped our checked bags with the porters waiting to take them. About that time they asked us to form a line. We were about 30th in line. The line to get in by noon was long and looked like it went to Georgia. Even at 1:00 PM, it looked like the line was pretty long. They opened the doors at noon on the dot. You enter the embarkation area and weave through a line that has one x-ray machine and metal detector. This is a waste of time. They then check your docs and passport and direct you to a check in area. They then give you your boarding number. We were in group 4. They take your docs and enter passport information give you a room key and your card used for charges and leaving/entering the ship. They do not do your credit card then, but ask that you go to the front desk in the first couple of days to set up the credit card you want to charge. You then proceed to the waiting area to board. There is an upstairs and downstairs. We went up stairs where there are comfortable seats. It is air conditioned and nice. You board the ship from the upstairs. The only thing that is missing is they don’t have water, tea, or punch like Celebrity does. Boarding was to begin at 1:30 PM, and it actual began at 1:25. Pam and I were on by 1:45 and in our room. I never felt crowded or rushed by the other pax like I was waiting to board on Princess and on some of the Celebrity cruises. The crowd appears to be a good mix of young 20s and 30s, middle-age 40s and 50s and older passengers and all have been very friendly and willing to strike up conversations. The Ship (A) The ship is 9+ years old. It made her debut in 1993. She is 55,451 gross tons. This is small compared to the new ships that are coming in at close to twice the weight. She is 720 feet long and 101 feet at the beam. At double occupancy, the maximum number of paxs is 1,266. HAL claims there are 10 pax decks, but I really don’t count the Sky Deck. The main public decks are the Promenade and Upper Promenade, Lido and Sports Decks. You board on Main deck and from the minute we boarded, I found that I loved the ship. I have been on ships ranging in size from 47,000 tons to 110,000 tons and while the new ships are stylish and new, I think I like this ship in both size and style compared to the new ones. I think the problem I see with many people not being happy is they don’t rate it for the time period it was built in. An example, the atrium is grand on the Maasdam. Many will disagree when comparing it to the ships built since the late 1990s. What I think you should do is rate it on the time period. This ship was built right when they were moving from a single floor reception area like is on the Celebrity Zenith and Horizon. Comparing this atrium to those ships welcome area, it IS grand. You can’t compare two different time periods and I don’t try. The other thing of sure beauty is all the teak wood that was used on her. You just don’t see that much used any more especially on the Promenade deck. There were plenty of lounge chairs that are made of wood. Don’t worry when you board the staff will put pads on them and they are more comfortable than they look on embarkation day. The other teak area that was great is the back pool and deck area and the fore observation deck. The most important area (IMHO LOL) is the Rotterdam Dining Room. By modern standards, it may not be as elegant, but in 1993 compared to the Zenith, it was outstanding. It is a two level dining room on the aft of the ship. There is a stairwell that goes down from deck 8 to the lower area on deck 7. You can also enter both levels from the main elevator area. I found the dining room to be very elegant and tasteful. I also liked the fact that the tables aren’t crammed together like on the newer ships (Millennium and Summit). There are a lot of tables for two, four, and six, and there are several for eight located on both levels. The captains table is not located in the main dining area but in side areas of the upper deck called the King’s room and the Queen’s room. We were very fortunate in that we were at table 122 on the main floor (deck 7 Promenade Deck). It was all the way aft and was a table of 6 but there were only four of us. We were right by the windows and had a great sunset view when heading east. The ship does not vibrate like the Century class ships and it was a wonderful spot to have dinner. From deck 7 (Promenade deck), you have to go up or down the back stairwells or elevators to enter on deck 7. The other options are to enter on deck 8 and go down the stairs inside the Rotterdam. You have to do this because the galley separates the dining room from the public areas on deck 7. Deck 7 is rarely used. The main items there are the Rotterdam dining room and the lower level of the Rembrandt Lounge (fore). The photo gallery is there along with the Front Office and Shore Excursions. The Wajang Theater is there as well and it usually shows a couple of movies with popcorn each day. Deck 8 (Upper Promenade) is the main public, inside deck. This deck has the balcony of the Rembrandt Lounge, boutiques, Ocean bar, Casino, Casino Bar, Piano Bar, Explorers Lounge, Card Room, Library, Internet Café and the upper level of the Rotterdam Dining room. One thing I really like about this ship is that the casino is on one side and doesn’t span the entire width port to starboard. This means if you are going aft to fore (or vice versa), you do not have to go through the casino. There are five shops total that have the standard perfume, liquor, jewelry, ship named items and specialty items. Nothing special. The casino was small by new ship standards, but I never saw it full. You have the normal donation machines to HAL (slots), several black jack tables, Caribbean stud poker, one roulette wheel and one craps table. On the other side of the casino (port side) there is a sitting area between the casino and the shops. There are several chairs with tables with the Casino Bar there. They have two large TVs that show ESPN. The Ocean Bar is a nice bar on the starboard side just before you enter the Rembrandt Balcony. It was busy before first seating for dinner and between first and second seating. The band that played there, The Station Band, were excellent. On the aft is the Explorer’s Lounge. Funny part is we wanted to go have a drink there pre dinner at 5:30 and it didn’t open till 7:30. Celebrity and the Martini and Champaign bar have this down. You can get drinks there before either meal. We ended up back at the Ocean Bar by the Rembrandt Lounge. The Piano bar is tucked away mid-ship on deck 8. It is a nice cozy bar that is dimly lit with a piano (imagine that) and a bar with stools that ring it. There are two areas that have tables and chairs close by that allow for small groups or more quiet conversation. It is a very nice area. It is reserved for suite passengers on disembarkation morning. Deck 7 and 8 are anchored by the Rembrandt Lounge to the fore and the Rotterdam Dining Room aft. The Rembrandt Lounge is very beautiful. The walls and stairwells have a very elegant wall paper and the stairs going from the main level to the balcony have solid wood rails with brass spacers and they spiral up to the balcony. The chairs on the main level are comfortable as where the bench type seats in the balcony. The main issue that I see with the main floor is that it is considered a lounge and not a theater. This would be correct based on the layout. It reminded me of the Zenith. The stage is about 3 feet above the floor level so you are always looking up. The whole main area is flat. I did not find it conducive to seeing the shows or the acts. The balcony does have a gradual angle but not enough to aid the view. If you are not in the first row, then you will find yourself looking around peoples shoulders and heads to try and see. Not good site lines in the lounge. The Rotterdam is very beautiful. As stated earlier, the tables are not packed together and there are many great views. Both upstairs and downstairs tables set right up against the back window offering wonderful views. The chairs are not as elegant as modern ships, but they are very comfortable and conductive to an excellent dining experience. The center of the lower level is slightly raised compared to the rest of the lower level tables. The top is open to the upper level over the raised portion of the lower level. The raised area holds most of the larger tables that can seat eight. Some are round and a few are rectangular. The ceiling on the second level that is over the opening to the lower is covered with dozens of tulip shaped glass lights. On the upper level facing aft as you enter is the orchestra pit for the players. Off to either side is a stair way that circles down to the main level. There is a large multi layered flower holder in the middle where the stairs coming down end that is filled with plants. There are large chandeliers throughout the dinning area giving it a classy feel. On the aft of deck 10, the Navigation deck is the aft pool. This is where most of the sail away parties and music is held. There are dozens of lounge chairs for the sun worshipper and there are tables to sit and eat or just watch from. Shade can be found there, but it is normally in the sun. Deck 11, the Lido deck is the main deck for out door activity. The Lido Restaurant is on the aft. There are plenty of tables inside. You can go out back and eat outside with an overlook view of the pool on deck 10. Mid-ship is the Dolphin bar, the Lido Pool, and the Terrace Grill. The Dolphin bar is nice and is where cigar smokers go from 6 PM to mid-night for cigars under the stars. A retractable roof that is opened up over the Lido Pool to allow sun and a breeze into the area covers the mid portion of the Lido deck. There are two hot tubes on the fore side and the dome covers them. The grill is a hole in the wall and they have a very nice taco bar out front of the grill window. There are plenty of lounge chairs and tables. It is a busy place on sea days, but there is plenty of room on days you are in port. This area would be a great place for Alaska or New England. The main area on deck 12, the Sports deck is the Crow’s Nest Lounge. It is located fore ship and offers a wonderful view during the day and is where Rockin Ronnie plays songs after dinner and into the wee hours. This is another great viewing area for scenic views like Alaska or New England when you may want to stay warm. The ship uses a lot of solid wood in its trim. Something you do not see much of on the new ships anymore due to costs. This gives the Maasdam a more elegant and luxurious feel than the newer ships. The stairwell handrails are all made of this solid, dark wood and they are well cared for. Another area that I really like is how they have the elevators offset from the stairwells. In most ships, when you come down or go up the stairs, you end up fighting through those waiting for the elevators and it creates a big traffic jam. On the Maasdam, there is a room where two sets of elevators on each side face each other. This allows guests to wait without impacting the stairs. Due to the size of the Maasdam, there are only two sets of elevators (fore and aft) containing 4 elevators at each location. This was more than adequate in accommodating the needs of the guests. Rooms: (A) We take the view most of the time that we would rather save the money and cruise more often. Because of that thought process, we booked a Guaranteed N back in March. We received our actual room assignment the Monday before sailing. We were very surprised and happy with our assignment. We were upgraded to a cat F that is an outside room. We were in room F729 on A Deck. We were in the fore of the ship on starboard side. We were right by the front stair well and elevators. There was some noise, but we always take and use our ear plugs so it was never bothersome. The room is well laid out. There is plenty of closet space and drawers and it easily held two people with room to spare. It is easily the published 197 square feet. The beds were up against the window and pushed together. There is a stand on each side of the bed with two drawers. The desk area has 6 wide drawers and a space for the chair to slide under. The mirror is large in front of the desk but there is only one 115v and one 220v outlet so bring your extension cord. The closet space has four doors. The first has a life preserver and the safe and some shelves for storing things. The second door is a full length, hanging closet for those items that are long such as suites, gowns, slacks, etc. The final two doors have hanging rod for half height items such as shirts and slacks that are folded over a hanger. There is storage space below it to stow other items. The room also contained a nice, but firm two seat couch which folds out to a bed for a third person in the room if needed. There is also a table stand that can be adjusted in height and a sitting stool. The cabin walls were a light, whitish-beige color that were plain but bright. The carpet was dark but in very good condition. The beds were firm, but that suited Pam and I just fine. I have read many posts complaining about the room temperature and the in ability to keep the room cool enough. In fact, we froze on the first night. We found that the room maintained a 70 F to 73 F temp throughout the cruise. The bathroom was the only place that was showing its age. The walls were made of small 2” square tile that were a pinkish-mauve color. The outside rooms come with the combination tub-shower. This is the first time that we have ever had one. Personally, I would rather just have the shower, but there was nothing wrong with the tub. It is just strange having to step up that high to get in the shower. Another common posting problem I had read about was the plumbing. We did not encounter any in room plumbing issues. The biggest issue was the toilet might wait one to three minutes to flush, but it always did. The water was shutoff in our part of the ship on Saturday while we were at Half Moon Cay from 9 AM to 1:30 PM for repair work, but this had little effect on us. The Staff: (A) Being our first cruise, I was expecting service similar to Celebrity. However there were some posts that did not like HAL service on the Maasdam stating that they “would give you what they wanted to give you on the Lido Deck buffet” or “they were unfriendly”. From the minute Pam and I boarded, I found the staff on the Maasdam to be attentive and very friendly. The crew is mainly Philippine in nationality, or in that region so there were a few times where I would have to point to what I wanted or slow down when speaking but I never had a problem. They never pushed what they wanted at the Lido buffet and I always found them smiling and happy. I have no idea who our room steward was. There was no name stand in the room and we had been there one full day before we even knew who they were. They did what they was suppose to do. They keep our room in good, clean working order. They were not as proficient as other room stewards we have had. We take a collapsible cooler for our water and we ask them to keep it filled with ice. They did this about every other day. Pam asked for a robe, but the steward did not get it or tell us why he didn’t. Pam found that only suite guests get robes. Finally, Pam always asks for extra towels every day. We got them the first day, but never again. Did this ruin our vacation? Hardly, but this is what separates superior service from good service. Our dinning room Waiter was Siswanto and his assistant was August. They did an outstanding job of keeping the courses coming in a timely manner. They were always greeting us with a smile and they remembered what we had ordered. Al and Mona were are table mates and Al ordered tomato juice the first night. It was always there waiting on him each night there after. Our wine steward was Petrus and he did an excellent job as well. Unlike Celebrity where my wine glass would get empty and sometimes be empty for 10 to 15 minutes. Petrus always keep our glass full. In fact, Pam’s glass was never more than half empty and mine was never empty before Petrus refilled it. At lunch in the dining room and at the Dutch tea, they were attentive and on top of it. They were probably the best overall staff that I have had on a cruise. They were friendly and efficient. That is all I ask for in the staff. I would rate them an A. THE TIPPING POLICY. HAL’s tipping policy is not only confusing, it is down right stupid. Pam and I tipped as we would on Celebrity or Princess. The food: (B+ to A-) Food is always subjective depending on each individuals taste. So take my review with that in mind. I think Celebrity food is the best at sea so I was anxious to compare HAL’s offerings to that of Celebrity’s. When you board at 1:30 AM, the Maasdam has the grill and taco bar working mid-Lido deck and the Lido Buffet. The buffet was excellent. In fact, it is the first one on any cruise that I can say was very good. There is a fresh selection of fruits, pasta/potato/tuna type salads, breads and cheeses, along with hot food selections which include pizza and French fries. They also have a couple cold salad stands to build your own salad. In the Rotterdam Dining room, the beef dishes were very good and had good flavor. The lamb dishes also turned out very well. The few pasta dishes were very good and Pam had a couple of vegetarian dishes that were excellent as well. Fish dishes were very good, but did not show much creativity since most were just pan fried. The appetizers were usually very good to excellent and you would have three or four choices. There was always two hot soups and on some nights they would have a chilled soup. Most nights, HAL offered a house salad and would offer a second type salad. The main course would have four or five offers and an additional two or three from the grill. The last course is desert. There would always be three to five deserts plus they would offer two to four ice cream flavors as well. HAL offers pizza up on the Lido Restaurant and it was as good a Celebrity. Only issue is that HAL would offer two types each day. Some toppings I like others I didn’t. I really prefer just a plain cheese pizza and you could not get that every day there. The other item they have and excel at is the ice cream parlor on the Lido Deck in the Restaurant. They offer four or five flavors plus toppings or you can have it in a waffle cone. HAL offers a pastry area where they have about a dozen offerings ranging from cakes and pies to pastries and jello thingies in the Lido Restaurant. The Lido Restaurant has a good offering every breakfast and lunch. I loved their French toast. There were always a large number of fresh fruits and hot food items. The pastries are very good, but not as good as Celebrity. To answer the question of dress code for each night, HAL had 4 - casual nights, 1 - informal (sport coat) and 2 - formal nights. First night is always casual, 2nd is Formal, 3rd was Informal, 4th and 5th were casual, 6th formal, and last night is always casual. In summary, please take this with the salt mentioned earlier in the review. This reflects MY personal preferences and likes. Celebrity is still the best food at sea. HAL is a solid second and is better than Princess IMHO (I think Pam disagrees). HAL’s fish preparations could be improved and their deserts are good but don’t measure up to the quality on Celebrity. Is there any room for real complaints on HAL? No, not as far as I can see. I hurt myself every morning, noon, and night and never walked away hungry. If you do walk away hungry then it is your own fault. They offer a wide selection of food on their dinner menu, and you can always find something at the Lido Restaurant that fits the bill. Throw in the great waiting staff HAL has and it is a solid winner. Entertainment (B) We decided to do the show on the first night. The Rembrandt Theater is not large and the sight lines in the balcony are not good if you are not in the front row. The shows normally start at 8:30 PM for the first seating diners, and at 10:15 PM for the late seating. The singers and dancers were okay doing the opening number on “rock the boat” and how great the Maasdam is. The comedic juggler, Edge, was outstanding. It is amazing how many times you can see jugglers and find them funny. They don’t do the same stuff and the crowd participation was unlike any I had seen before. It was a laugh a second. We heard from our table mates that the singers and dancers show on the second night (Upon the Roof – songs of the 50s and 60s) was very good although we did not go. The third night featured a magician and we did not go to that one either, but we did see him on the last night and he was excellent then. On Wednesday night we went and saw the comedian, Don Sherman. He was outstanding and he had everyone laughing. Again, I am amazed at the crowd participation on this cruise. It added a tremendous amount of energy to his show and to Edge’s show on the first and last night. Friday night we went to see the singers and dancers do a number act (Party Gras). They are good dancers, but not a one of them has seen the light of day. They are so white they glow in the dark on stage. The singers are average to good. It was enjoyable and they do put all their energy into the show and you can see they enjoy what they are doing. Before the show, Pam and I went to the Newlywed-Not So Newlywed show and that is always a hoot, and this one did not disappoint. Saturday night, HAL wraps up with the magician and Edge. It is a great show and not to be missed. Disembarkation (A) Because we had a very late flight (after 4 PM), we received two packets. They had different numbers (11 and 17). Since we were getting a rental car to poke around Sawgrass Mall, we left with the group number 11. You are asked to be out of your room by 8 AM. Breakfast is only served till 8 AM in both the Lido and Rotterdam dining rooms. The Maasdam arrived at about 6:30 AM. Disembarkation began at 9:50 AM. The disembarkation ticket number means nothing because the don’t go down in order. They started with tickets A and 1 then went to 5 and 6 then D and 2. They did 8, 9 and 12 before our number 11. Then they did 11 and 14. Go figure. The process was smooth and there was no rushing or shoving. You exit on deck 4 (Main deck) and go down the gangway. Their in the upstairs waiting area they had four lines for passport check. You then go downstairs and before entering the baggage area you give customs your declaration form. Our bags were right where they were suppose to be in the color coded area. We were out front by 10:30 AM. Taxi’s were plentiful and there were buses waiting on those with transfers. Because our flight wasn’t until 3:30 PM we booked with Avis. Use and another group ended up calling 5 times trying to get them there. They kept saying 10 minutes then blamed it on airport construction. They finally got there about 11 AM. I am preferred so we were dropped off at the car and we had our car by 11:15 AM. Ports of Call COZUMEL, MEXICO  The Maasdam arrives in Cozumel after a day at sea around 6:30 AM. The ship sets its time back to CDS time. Shops open at between 8 and 9 AM. You depart at 2 PM. This does not give you much time to do a tour and then shop without being totally rushed. Since Pam and I have been there a half dozen times or so we waited till about 10 AM and headed out to get a few things. The ship docks at Puerto Maya pier that is by the International pier. It is a three mile taxi ride to downtown. They are really building up this pier and there will be a new shopping plaza in the next two to six months that will hold about 50 stores by my guess once it is done. At this time, it is a total mess and zoo. Taxi’s were very abundant and waiting so we walked right out and up to taxi and we were on our way. It is $6 to town. It was in the upper 80s and clear and hot! We were back by 12:30 after shopping and a drink. Taxi’s back are plentiful and easy to find as well. There were 6 ships total in Cozumel that day but it didn’t seem that crowded. None were larger than 77,000 tons. GRAND CAYMAN  This was very disappointing. I say this for those that were wanting to do things. Like Cozumel, Pam and I have been here a half dozen times or so thus we didn’t have anything planned. The Maasdam arrives at 8:30 AM. They handout tender tickets in the Rembrandt Lounge on deck 7, but they don’t publish it well. They did announce it at around 7:45 AM. We wanted to let those go that needed to so we moseyed on down at about 10 AM to get our ticket. We were number 24 and they had just called 2! They wanted every one to stay in the lounge but we thought no way. It was going to be at least an hour so we got our books and went to the Promenade deck and read. It was 11:20 AM before they called us and we weren’t on Grand Cayman until 11:40 AM. This was ridicules since we had to be back on board by 4:30 PM. For us it didn’t matter because we were back by 1 PM, but there were a lot of upset people. There were only 4 ships in that day and we were the last ship there and only the Grand Princess left a half hour before us. OCHO RIOS, JAMAICA  You dock in Ochie at about 8:15 AM and you have to be on board by 5:30 PM. We walked to the end of the pier and took pictures of the ship, but spent the day by the Lido pool. It was great. There were very few people to contend with on the ship. Better than a sea day if you ask me. The day was hot sunny and perfect. Jamaica is beautiful but they are just too pushy and there is nothing that I want to see again. We were the only ship in port that day. I only think it can handle one ship at a time. HALF-MOON CAYS, BAHAMAS:  This is the best private island I have been to. That really doesn’t mean much because I only have Princess Cay to compare to. We arrived at 7 AM and dropped anchor. We got our tender ticket at 7:45 AM and we were in group 2. We then proceeded to have breakfast at the Lido Restaurant. By the time we got back to our room, they were sending us ashore. We were on the first boat and on shore by 8:25 AM or there about. The beach is long and there are a lot of chairs on the beach. Finding one is not a problem. They have about a dozen covered areas that cover two lounge chairs on the beach. Pam and I snagged one because Pam is so fair skinned. There are a few umbrellas and some shade from trees in the morning, but during the afternoon there is little to no shade. The sand is the finest sand I have ever seen and it is very, very soft and white. The swimming area is very shallow (knee to chest deep to about 60 feet out), and the water was very warm and refreshing. We spent about an hour to hour and a half total in the water. After staking our claim to chairs, we took about a 45 minute walk along the beach to close to the end on the west side. I cannot say how great a walking and swimming beach this is. There are several restrooms and the picnic eating area is very large with plenty of tables. There is one shop and several stalls with local knickknacks. They have several bars that sell drinks and soda and they have a Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream stand. I assume that it is a pay stand and not free, but I didn’t ask. All in all, this was a very nice place and I am glad we stopped. It was well worth the time. In conclusion on the ports of call, IMHO HAL needs to eliminate one. You don’t get enough time in Grand Cayman or Cozumel. HAL would be better served getting rid of one or the other and spending more time in the other. Better yet get rid of Ocho Rios and space out Grand Cayman and Cozumel with a sea day. Half Moon Cay is a beautiful place. It is a keeper. I know you can’t please everyone, but if I owned my own cruise line, I’d do it that way. Conclusion I really enjoyed HAL. I did not find it to be an “Old Person” line. There was a diverse group of paxs on board and everyone was friendly. The crew and staff were excellent and would always smile at you and many would talk to you. This is one of my top three ships (Galaxy and Summit being the other two.) I love the layout, ship size, and number of passengers. The only big issue I have is that they do not mark one side of the ship for smoking and one for non-smoking. Celebrity has this right. By splitting the ship it gives a place for smokers to go and not be harassed and a place for the non-smokers to go. I still think Celebrity is better overall, but if you do like Celebrity or Princess, then you will like HAL. It is a top notch product and is deserving of the Premium Line label. Happy Cruising John (Future Cruises: Brilliance of the Sea 1/03, Galaxy 7/03)

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Nov 30, -0001

Western Caribbean

As Europeans we were slightly concerned that our tastes might not coincide with the American market but these fears proved groundless. Holland America offer a very refined product which appeals to Americans and Europeans alike, quality and good taste are international. EMBARKATION/DISEMBARKATION. Essentially embarkation was achieved with the minimum of fuss. We were bussed from Pier 66 Hotel straight to the embarkation hall the

luggage having been collected at the hotel. Upon checking in at the terminal, where you were issued with universal identity card and cabin keys, there was a 20 minute wait before being called to embark. We went aboard and were immediately shown to our cabin 154 on the Verandah deck by a smiling Indonesian steward. Our room steward arrived within 2 minutes to introduce himself and our baggage turned up about 1 hour later. In the meantime we went to the lido for lunch and explored the ship. The ‘ship’ side of disembarkation proved to be equally well organised although the time taken for non US citizens to clear immigration is a bore. Upon being called to disembark, we found our luggage immediately available in the hall, there were plenty of porters. However once we cleared the baggage hall, chaos reigned. The bus taking us to Miami airport was virtually full and loading the baggage was a problem as the AA hold was already full, eventually 2 of our bags went in the United hold and 2 in the US air. The caused me considerable worry as we have had luggage go astray before and it’s a difficult task to get it back particularly if you are overseas. To add to the disorganisation 10 people proved to be on the wrong bus and had to disembark and relocate their bags. In the end we departed 1houe 15 minutes late for Miami. We had plenty of time but others were getting very concerned. Be warned…. THE GOOD POINTS Overall we were hugely impressed with HAL and the Maasdam in particular. The ship was immaculately maintained and the displays of fresh flowers were outstanding. The crew keep the ship in tip top condition and were vacuuming, washing and polishing the whole time. Our cabin steward was not usually visible - we hardly ever saw him, but he kept the cabin spotless and well serviced. Every time we left the cabin, the fresh fruit was replenished as were fresh towels etc. Food. The Rotterdam dining room was excellent, - we struck lucky with our steward Budi. He was exceptionally attentive without being obseqious. The wine waiter also was excellent and knowledgeable and recommended a couple of wines which were new to me but which were most drinkable and didn’t break the bank. We asked for and got a table for 2 in the smoking part of the restaurant (the two tier room is quite stunning) in the second sitting. My wife smokes, although I don’t, but I found that there was no overwhelming smell of cigarette smoke. The quality of the food was excellent, and we were surprised at how ‘nouvelle cuisine’ the food was> Portions were not over large and one did not rise from the table with an uncomfortable overfed feeling. The choice of main dishes and desserts was wide, and one night included some outstanding lamb. Every dish we ordered was well presented and tasted good.  We ate dinner every night in the Rotterdam Restaurant together with breakfast on one morning and one lunch. Other breakfasts we took in our cabin. This is an area in which HAL need to tighten up.The cabin breakfasts were mediocre hotel standard and were poorly cooked and presented. For lunch we usually went to the lido buffet. I was slightly disappointed in this venue. There was a wide variety of food but I thought quite a lot of dishes were bland and tasteless. The fresh grilled hamburgers and tacos together with stir fries at the pool side grill were excellent., as was the complementary ice cream bar, with vanilla ice cream made with real vanilla pods, as well as several low fat alternatives. We did not eat at the lido in the evening, nor did we attend the late night buffets as we were simply not hungry. On deck The weather on our cruise was disappointing and we did not have one entirely sunny day. Apparently the Caribbean in November is unpredictable, however as the temperature was in the 80s it was quite comfortable to lie by the pool under cloudy skies. Because of the weather the cover over the main pool was closed most of the time. This tends to trap the smells from the lunch time grills. This is an area where quite a few of the activities such as horse racing and ice carving take place and it can be very noisy. Deck service was efficient although a few more smiles might have been nice. However there were plenty of fresh towels. The aft pool area, and indeed the whole ship never felt crowded and on the occasions that the steel band played there they kept the volume to an acceptable level (unlike the Carnival ship along side us in Cozumel which could be heard 2 miles away!). Cabin We heeded the advice of  our travel agent and previous reviewers in this column and paid extra for a cabin with a Verandah. In my opinion it was worth every penny. We spent a lot of time in the cabin and on the balcony and one occasion slept with the door open to the sounds of the ocean. The balcony added a new dimension, we would not cruise again without one. The cabin was spacious and spotlessly clean although the wall paper was beginning to fray a bit around the joints. There was a mini bar and TV with a VCR machine (tapes could be borrowed from the front office although the selection was poor). The bathroom had a jacuzzi bath which was fun, and an excellent shower. HAL provided good quality shampoo and body lotion. THE NOT SO GOOD. Upon arrival at Miami airport after a 10 hour flight from London, the Holland America line representative Mr de Sousa could not have been more unhelpful. We had to find him  and he was far more interested in a private conversation he was having on his mobile (it sounded like his girl friend). He made no attempt to help with luggage other than rudely telling us that trollies were not allowed to be taken outside the terminal building and that the car was 250 meters away. He made no attempt to help us find a porter and we felt that we were an irritation to him. NOT an impressive start. Shore excursions . I felt that these were very overpriced. We only went on two, a flight from Cozumel to Chichen Itza and on an Island Drive in Grand Cayman. The Chichen Itza tour is stunning but they simply do not allow enough time to see the site. There was considerable confusion over time and as a result we had only 20 minutes after the guided tour to revisit points of interest. Unfortunately we confused the time and kept every body waiting. For an excursion costing approx $280 each, I felt rushed and hurried. If the excursion does not fit the time the ship is in port it should not be offered. The Grand Cayman Island Drive was also disappointing. There were 3 other large cruise ships in port  that day and the shore excursion arrangements were chaotic. High temperatures and high humidity made it uncomfortable and there was a half hour of queueing before we were ushered on to a ‘school bus’ – uncomfortable cramped seats and high windows. I was not able to sit down properly and no one checked to see if everyone was ok before starting off. Luckily we were able to transfer to another vehicle at the first stop but there was a conveyor line mentality. Whilst I realise that this is not HAL’s fault as they do not run the excursions, it left a sour taste. Show lounge entertainment. We had read that the entertainment on HAL was a weak point. I certainly agree with this criticsm. During the course of this cruise there were 2 ‘shows’, an illusionist and a tired comedian. Quite frankly the standard was poor, and let the high standards achieved elsewhere down. The 2 production shows consisted of 4 boys, of whom only 2 could hold a tune, and 5 girls, the leader of whom consistantly sang ‘off key’. They part danced, part sang  and part mimed to a click track and orchestra. There was virtually no production, no scenery and the standard generally was what one might expect in a mediocre city night club – one of the dancers even fell over one night…. and the ship was steady! Come on Holland America ! Get your act together here. Click tracks were outmoded 5 years ago and the ship and its passengers deserve something a bit fresher and more innovative! Tipping. I  do not like the tipping policy. Either tips are expected or they are not! Very confusing. CONCLUSION The quality of the cruise far outweighed the niggles and I would not hesitate to book with Holland America again, in fact we will not look at any other line. Maasdam is a beautiful well kept ship. True, the average age aboard was definitely towards the higher end of the spectrum but Holland America deliver a package that makes passengers feel special.  This was a wonderful holiday aboard a truly comfortable ship.

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Nov 30, -0001

Transatlantic

This is the third time we have sailed on the MAASDAM in the past 4 years. She is still a well cared for ship and will undergo renovation in the spring of 2006. We sailed the second half of the 35 day transatlantic roundtrip from Boston. We boarded at Rotterdam for the return trip to Boston. The unique itinerary was the primary factor in selecting this cruise. The countries visited included France, England, Ireland, Faroe Islands, Iceland,

Greenland and Newfoundland. The Indonesian and Philippine crew get high marks for friendly professional service for the entire 18 days. The crew’s ability to consistently provide high quality service is remarkable and a testament to Holland Americas commitment to service aboard its vessels. The food was consistently good with some interesting and exceptional entrees and desserts. I especially enjoyed the Indonesian dishes and looked forward to them throughout the voyage. The passengers were mostly older so be prepared for walkers and wheelchairs. The entertainment was typical with musical reviews, lectures and individual performers. France: The port of Le Havre is about a 2 ½ hours bus ride to Paris. We took the excursion that took you to Paris for a sightseeing trip around the city along with lunch at a café. The experience was perfect for us and is recommended. We got to see the city in comfort with several stops for photos and the lunch. We were back at the ship in plenty of time and well relaxed. If you would like to see the city and worry about the limited time this would be the excursion to consider. England: Plymouth is a large town and you can walk shop and see the sites. A continuous shuttle to town center and back was available at the pier as well as taxis. Ireland: Cobh is a small town within an easy walk from the pier. The ship provided a number of excursions into the countryside, but we chose to walk the town, visit a flea market and take the local bus (1 Euro person) as it ran its 45 minute route ending up in the center of town. This is an inexpensive way to soak up local color and see the surrounding community. Dublin is a large city and fun to walk around. We took the city tour then spent the rest of the afternoon shopping and walking around. Faroe Islands: Torshavn is a small town with limited stores and things to see, but fun to walk. There are local taxis for hire and one small van that a group could hire. There are a few historic sites that you can visit and the taxi could be a cheaper way to go for a few people. Negotiate a price for the ride. We paid 45 dollars (plus tip) for the hour’s ride for 5 of us, which is what the excursion was charging person. Iceland: Akureyri and Isafjord are small towns with interesting vistas. We took the excursion to see the countryside at Akureyri and enjoyed the trip. Our guide provided a lot of information about life in Iceland. Isafjord sits in a beautiful fjord with limited stores etc. Take sweaters and warm clothing for Iceland and Greenland. The temperature was in the 40’s for several days and people were buying sweaters and jackets. Greenland: Prince Christian Sound was absolutely beautiful. We sailed all day through the sound on our way to Qaqortoq. Qaqortog is small with a tourist information center near the pier along with local people selling items of interest to the tourists. Newfoundland: St. Anthony is small and there is nothing to see or do here. We were there on a beautiful sunny day but just walked around a bit. Cornerbrook is a larger town within a 15-20 minute walk from the ship. There are some fun stores and interesting scenery. This was an enjoyable cruise with interesting scenery and ports of call that are seldom visited. I understand that the MAASDAM will repeat this itinerary in the summer of 2006.

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Nov 30, -0001

Panama Canal

Maasdam (Holland America) Panama Canal (4/98) Third Time Around On The Maasdam! Well as usual, the Holland American Line kept up it's high standards. The Maasdam was as wonderful this time as it was the last 2 years. They keep it spotless and the food is very good and I can't say enough about the Indonesian and Filipino help. They are sincerely happy and cordial and we learned from various conversations that they love the life aboard the

ship - much better than at home - and are treated very well. Both ethnic groups put on individual shows for the guests which were so professional and beautiful and they are all very proud of it. We had the good fortune to be at the table of the Chief Engineer. A charming Hollander - who also loves his job. His son works on the Noordam also as an engineer. We asked him if we could see the engine room and a few days later, each at our table (a great bunch I might add) received an invitation. We were shown all around the engine room by a young female engineer-apprentice and it was most interesting. The ports on this trip (Acapulco to Ft.Lauderdale) were just o.k. as far as I was concerned. First was Huatulco (Mexico) but really not too interesting. By the way, the ship's tours were ridiculously expensive and from those who went, were not worth the money. In this port we took a taxi into the nearest town and just wandered and shopped for some handcrafts. Next stop Guatemala. Ugh! We were warned of the dangers and did not bother with the tour. The mountain people came down and set up a large flea market near the ship which was interesting and the bargaining was hilarious. They were lovely people but poor and hungry. They asked for fruit from the ship and postcards. so when I went out the 2nd time brought the fruit from my room, later to learn that what I did was illegal. Don't know why - they were so grateful. Costa Rica is really worth seeing. We took a tour to Sarchi where they make oxcarts and other carved wood. I was going to buy a rocking chair but the cost to send it home was higher than the chair itself. The tour guide on that bus (about 2 hrs. each way) was exceptionally bright and the country seems quite modern and clean and enterprising and is an ecological paradise. I would go back there to stay sometime. The last stop was Half Moon Cay in the Bahamas (owned by HAL) It is a clean, pretty beach (seemed almost Disneyesque). They had wonderful sports there and a barbecue from the ship. I tried snorkeling for the first time but was not too successful but other people went parasailing which looked marvelous and banana boating which they said was fun. The entertainment on the ship was not spectacular but pleasant enough and we preferred the movies - they had a bunch of great pictures and you get popcorn before you go in and cappuccino when you come out. Great. The Chocolate Thunder Cake was probably the most decadent thing I have ever tasted and would go back for that alone!!! The only bad part of our entire trip was the inefficiency and absolute neglect by Continental Airlines. The bad weather at Newark could not be helped but their handling of the passengers thereafter was unpardonable. Rosaly

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Nov 30, -0001

UNKNOWN

Ship Review: Maasdam (Holland America) My husband and I have sailed on the HAL Maasdam twice in the past 2 years and have plans to take it again next April ('98) (Panama Canal).  It is one of my favorite ships. Very elegant with magnificent artwork and antiques. The furnishings and decor are of fine taste - not garish as some ships are.  The help are Indonesians and Filipinos and are the most charming and helpful and cheerful people.

One young man in particular who gave out the trays at the Lido buffet would memorize the names of every passenger and greet you by your first name as you approached. One time I was looking for my husband and when I got to the buffet, Sonny announced to me that Harold was sitting with Judy & Milton and looking for me.  The cabins on the Maasdam are unusually large - whether inside or outside. They have two beds which can be put together for a King size if necessary. Each cabin has lots of closet space and a curtain can be drawn between the sleeping area and the sitting area. There is a sofa and a desk and each day the bowl of fruit is replenished. There are hairdryers in the bathroom and there are laundromats on each deck.  The dining room is exquisite with beautiful chandeliers and it is bi-level with staircase coming down on each side. No matter where you sit there is a good view of the windows. The food is excellent and the servers are most charming and humorous.  The staff gives a wonderful performance in the lounge one night with native dances and songs which are great. If you are too tired to stay up you can watch it on the TV in your cabin. Also, one station is a view of the prow so that even in an inside cabin you can see what is doing outside. Every spot on the ship is exceedingly clean. There is a lovely movie theatre (also used for lectures and religious services) very comfortable seats and a popcorn machine outside. Fairly recent movies are shown.  The entertainment is probably one of the best professional shows I have encountered in 25 years of cruising. Always a wonderful group of singers and dancers and then comedians, jugglers, various types of musicians, etc. The of course one night is the passenger talent show (in which I always participate) There are many activities all the time. Quiz games, Pictionary, Scrabble, bridge, golf, Trivial Pursuit, etc. with prizes for all.  The ports chosen are of great interest and some of the tours are excellent. On our trip to the Black Sea we went to Ukraine, Bulgaria, Romania, Turkey, Greece, etc. and it was fascinating.  This year we took the Trans-Atlantic and only made one stop (Bermuda) and just had a wonderful sail to Lisbon - where we were given a 3 hour tour (wonderful place) and then a one day stay at the Meridien Park Atlantic Hotel. It made us want to visit Lisbon some time again.  There are about 4 gift shops aboard with the usual ship-type products. This year, because they eliminated one port (Azores) we were given $200 shipboard credit per person so we had a ball, as did all the passengers, buying things we would never have bought if we had to pay REAL money.  There is a nice gambling casino for those who indulge.  They have one lounge where chamber music is played every evening by a wonderful Philippine group.  In general, I believe it is a wonderful ship. Most of the passengers are in the above 60 age group and there are facilities for the handicapped which draws handicapped people to sail.  However, there were some young families and children which of course livened up the activities. The outdoor pool has a retractable dome so that it can be used in bad weather. Also, on that same Lido deck, they have "stir fry" and "hot dog" stations so that if you want to have this instead of the buffet or dining room, you can really have great variety.  Before I forget - there is also an ice-cream bar where you add your own "fixings" which is just devastating!!!  There is no pressure to order drinks but for those who like it, there are many bars. Hope this gives you a good picture of one of my favorite ships. Rosaly G.

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Nov 30, -0001

Canada-New England

We had heard of the 3-level atrium with a soaring Venetian glass sculpture being the focal point. Compared to the atriums of Royal Caribbean ships this was not impressive.  FOOD OK! I have been very negative.  The first night in the dining room we warmed up to the Maasdam.  Marie and I were seated at a table for four instead of the table for eight we had requested and had confirmed.  We were joined by a lovely couple

from the Vancouver area.  Gradually our minds were changed from negative to positive.  We had outstanding waiters and wine steward.  The dinners without exception were gourmet.  THE BEST DINNERS WE HAVE EVER HAD ON A CRUISE SHIP.  The Maasdam has an excellent Vienna-born chef.  The presentations bordered on the exotic.  Truly gourmet all the way! Actually we were delighted to be at a table for four instead of eight as there was considerable background noise which would have made conversation difficult at a larger table.  We did enjoy our new-found friends from British Columbia. Breakfasts in the dining room were  a different story.  “Open Seating” was the mode for breakfast as well as lunch.  I love eggs benedict and became excited when I spotted them on the menu.  Alas, the eggs arrived hard as nails, atop a rubbery muffin.  They were hot --like out of a microwave..  I drew this to the waiter’s attention and he explained that the eggs sometimes come hard and sometimes “runny”.  The next morning I thought I would give them a second chance and ordered Eggs Benedict with the eggs “runny” .  Within seconds runny, cold eggs on a muffin and bacon were served.  It appears that the eggs are poached in advance and warmed up, unless you order “ runny” eggs. On the third morning we decided to go to the Lido Deck for breakfast.  We generally don’t like buffets (except a very  good one on Grand Princess).  What an awakening we were in for.  Fresh squeezed orange juice;  porridge or your choice of eight kinds of cereal;  all kinds of fruits and pastries.  Marie was delighted to get Decaf Tea.  Eggs were done to order before your eyes.  Toast was prepared to order.  Attendants poured your coffee or tea.  All this and an ocean-view table.  Paradise!!! ENTERTAINMENT Again pessimism was clouding my brain as we entered the beautiful two level Rembrandt Show Lounge.  Susan Wood, HAL’s only female cruise director introduced the show. Ten young (early 20’s) guys and girls sang and danced with great enthusiasm.  They were backed by the very professional Maasdam 7-piece orchestra. This ensemble put on outstanding production shows on all but a couple of nights.  Also appearing was a fine young Australian singer, a very humorous comedian, a comedian-juggler, a top-notch ventriloquist and a magician. These were all acts that have been appearing in Las Vegas and on other cruise ships and were very professional. A nice night-cap after a wonderful dinner. Susan Wood was always working whether it was in the show lounge, making announcements over the PA system, organizing tours and even giving a talk on ship-board life. She is the best cruise director we have come across. We were impressed with her lovely English accent and sense of  humor. EXERCISE FACILITIES This is a weak area.   And,  it is probably due to the fact that the exercise program is run by a franchised company named “Steiner” from London and not by HAL.  They have a “Walk a Mile”  program each morning at 7 am.  You get a stamp in an Exercise Passport for each activity you complete.  We went the first morning at five minutes to seven. Passengers were already gathered on the promenade deck for the beginning of the walk but no one from the exercise staff was there.  After 20 minutes of waiting we walked our mile with everyone else.  We went to the Exercise Room to get our Passport stamped. Marie is heavily into Low-impact aerobics and on other ships has participated in their programs.  She enquired as to when they would have their aerobic classes and was told by the head instructor that because of the age of the passengers aerobic classes were not popular so they just had stretch classes.  It was possible to hire a private Steiner instructor if you wanted to pay for it.  Marie was very disappointed as she always looks forward to a group class with music to exercise to. TOURS We did not take the tours  except in Boston.  We paid $118.00 for a tour that was booked to leave at 9:30 am after we disembarked.  The plan was to ride around Boston and then be dropped off  at Logan Airport in time for our 3:30 pm flight.  Because of the length of time for disembarking and general confusion around the buses (no HAL employees around to direct traffic), we finally got underway on the bus at 10:30 with a local guide providing the commentary.  We drove around downtown Boston and Beacon Hill for an hour then were dropped at    Faneuil Square  to buy our lunch if we wanted any.  We had to be back on the bus at noon.  It was then off to the airport and dropped off there.  We sat in the airport for 2 1/2 hours waiting for our flight.  Had we known what we would have got for $118.00 we would have taken a taxi to the airport. TIPPING As you know, HAL has a “Tipping Not Required” policy.  Employees are allowed to accept tips, but not request them.  This leads to some confusion as there are no guidelines  We are accustomed to tipping at the rate of $3 to $4 per day per person to our waiter and room steward and half that rate to the bus boy.  We usually give $5 or $10 to the head waiter and wine steward if they give us extra service.  Our dinner companions had only been on HAL cruises and were not aware of any tipping guidelines so gave $20 to each person that served them whereas we were giving up to $80 to our servers and room steward.  I like the attitude the Indonesian and Philippine crew on HAL.  Perhaps they have the best system.  But I do think their should be some outlines given to passengers who do wish to tip.  SUMMARY I know I have sounded negative. On the second day Marie said, “Don’t tell me you are enjoying the cruise?”  I had to admit that I was not.  By the end of the 10th day we both felt it was one of the best cruises we had been on.  We met a lot of nice people (most were older, like us, average age probably 65 to 70.  We had the best food we have ever had on a cruise.  The service was relaxed yet very efficient. We had excellent entertainment.  We got to like our cabin and after a while the masonite-colored doors really didn’t matter.  Overall a relaxed, pleasant, first-class cruise experience.  This cruise had an older clientele on board.  One young couple in their early 30’s had a 1 1/2 year old child with them.  I understand that there was a reception for repeat passengers and this young couple had been on more HAL cruises than any other couple.   In her talk Susan Wood said that HAL is aiming for a younger clientele through their new 5 day “Starter Cruises” in the Caribbean. They need to,  as their older group is going to be dying off over the next few years. Marie and I are glad we tried Holland-America.  We will probably return someday!

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Nov 30, -0001

Western Caribbean

This was my first Holland America cruise. After 14 cruises I finally found one that was very affordable and it was on a ship in their fleet that has special meaning to me. I was on a flight to Florida and back with people taking her maiden voyage, many moons ago, who raved about the ship. I hadn’t booked with HAL before because the prices were higher, the deposits larger and the final payment due earlier than the other cruise lines in

the same category. Since then cruise ships have changed quite a bit and perhaps because of Maasdam’s age it is not considered one of HAL’s top ships and the rates have dropped even below Royal Caribbean and Norwegian Cruise Line. So the question is, can Maasdam compete with the newer generation of cruise ships? I found many features that make the ship appealing and the smaller size of the ship (but by no means tiny) makes it easier to get around. For example, the forward elevators were a stone’s throw for my cabin, so I could be at the pool in under a minute. Maasdam cannot compete with the variety of entertainment, activities and features of these newer ships and unfortunately the ship did not always live up to Holland Americas reputation when it comes to service. But in terms of enjoyment this happened to be one of my best cruises. I arrived in Florida a day ahead to visit family. I arrived at Port Everglades at around 1 pm. We had to stop at a security check point on the way into the port, which caused a slight delay. At the cruise ship terminal there was a short line outside. This was a result of the security/x-ray station being the first stop before boarding. Next stop was for your boarding number. Then you checked in and got your cabin key card and your id card. It would become necessary to have 3 cards with you at all times since you needed another magnetic strip card to operate the cabin safe. You do not establish your on-board account when you check in, requiring another line at the purser’s desk once you are on the ship. I was told by the check-in that they had just started boarding passengers and I would have about a 45 minute wait until I boarded. I actually boarded around 2:40 pm. I still don’t understand how Princess can board a huge ship in less time than it takes for Holland-America to board passengers on a ship ½ the size of the Grand Princess. One reason may be that as you enter the ship a staff member escorts you to the cabin. On Princess, staff members are strategically located throughout the ship to point you in the right direction. I prefer the Princess way because it frees up enough staff to permit a dining room lunch on embarkation day instead of just a buffet. The last thing I want to do after all those lines at the airport and ship terminal is have to line up again for my lunch. I was escorted to my cabin #323 which is located on the Lower Promenade Deck, as I mentioned, near the forward elevators. I liked the location since I had the next best thing to a private verandah, a public verandah. All I had to do was step out of my cabin and make a couple of left or right turns and I was in a deck chair. Very convenient. The cabin looked as though it had new carpeting. It was spacious and included a tub in the bathroom. The only major problem I found is the towels. Whereas the towels at the pool and the hand towels in the public toilets were swan’s-down-soft, the suite of towels in the bathroom were like sandpaper. My beds were not together and I could not find my cabin steward. So, I called the front desk and asked them how to contact him. They said they would contact him and it he took care of this very quickly. My steward turned out to be a terrific worker and he was very accommodating (I already wrote HAL in Seattle to let them know in the head office). After checking my dining room assignment, which was in an envelope on the bureau and also a notice advising my pre-booked shore excursion had been cancelled, I proceeded to the Lido Café for lunch. The selection didn’t look too exciting and the lines were long (there are 2 lines, one on each side of the ship), I checked out the separate salad bar, which would prove to be a convenient, nutritious and excellent alternative. This wasn’t a boring salad but, but offered a lot of choices to make your own salad. In addition, there was a soup tureen and 1 entrée (some of which were the best offerings on the cruise, most notably grilled lemon chicken and salmon with green curry sauce). I would have to give the Lido Buffet pretty high marks, for the most part. There were some inconveniences, but there was a lot of variety. In addition to the hot and cold typical offerings, there was also a stir-fry section (chef used way to much oil). One objection was that instead of an omelet station in the morning, the omelets were made on the griddle, like in a diner, which made them too greasy. There was also an ice cream bar that was more extensive than any I’ve seen on the other cruise lines I’ve sailed. This was opened in the afternoon and also at night. I did my best to avoid this, but temptation got the better of me by the final days of the cruise. I sampled the coconut sherbet and mango sorbet. Both were excellent. It seemed that flavors changed each time the bar re-opened. The Lido Buffet also offered casual dining in the evening. Since I was at second seating (8:15 pm) there were times I would visit the casual dining for a salad or something to bridge the gap til dinner time. The casual dinner, however, is not a carbon copy of the formal dining room meals. Don’t’ expect prime rib, lobster tails or rack of lamb there. Lastly, there was some sort of late night buffet which started at 11:15 pm for about an hour. Each night had a different theme but it was also good if you wanted some fruit or cheese. The one selection at the Lido Buffet that blew me away were the chilled snow crab legs and claws. This was truly something I haven’t had on a cruise before and I took horrible advantage of its availability. I returned to my cabin to find my luggage delivered inside which was a nice touch. Many times you find your bags outside in the corridor. It does make for a tidier looking ship. The mandatory lifeboat and safety drill before sailing was truly a pain in the neck. Holland America’s procedure is totally inconveniencing compared to other lines. Everyone is supposed to have his lifejacket on, even though the instructions on how to properly secure it come later. Everyone’s attendance is taken. However, instead of the tender station staff member check off names as people arrive, they wait until everyone first gets to the station. A lot of time and standing around could be avoided if the staff member asked people their names as they arrived and then review the list for anyone who didn’t already “check in.” How Princess manages to efficiently run the drill in the comfort of lounges shows that it’s not necessary to put everyone through this uncomfortable ordeal in 80°+ heat and 100% humidity. One confusing issue is that the life jackets had the word FRONT printed on both sides. In a real emergency this could be a problem! Instead of attending the sail away party at the aft swimming pool I opted to head to the deck above the Crow’s Nest Lounge in the forward section. It was a lovely departure and we received a nice send-off from the apartment buildings at the Point of Americas, which is by the channel where Pt. Everglades meets the sea. This is where the cruise officially begins for me. Later that evening I went to my assigned table at the Rotterdam Dining Room, second seating. The dining room looked, although on closer inspection, the seats did show their age by the stains on the upholstery and paint chipped off the wood. What really surprised me, after reading and hearing so much about Holland America’s superb service, was the disappointing service by the waiter and assistant waiter. They did not introduce themselves. Nor did they make any kind of gesture about making sure everything would be to our liking. Service was slow and many times I simply couldn’t find either member of our wait team to correct something. In addition, I always had to request water. It was never routinely refilled. Our head waiter was not really much better in the service department. He made an appearance on the first night. Two of us told him the salmon entrée was much too salty. He suggested we order something else and took care of that. But that would be the last appearance at the table, other than to tell me that there would be a $3.50 charge if I requested something not on that evening’s menu. So forget about impeccable service in the dining room. But I had a very interesting bunch of table mates so the dinners were still enjoyable. As a matter of fact, the main reason for my enjoyment of this cruise was because of the people I met. As for after dinner entertainment; there wasn’t much of quality. The shows in the Rembrandt Lounge were not of the caliber I’m used to on Princess and Carnival which are my favorite lines when it comes to entertainment. I walked out on the juggler named Edge’s show. He’s a pretty good juggler but his banter with the audience got on my nerves. Too much jabbering. I also attended the first of the two production shows, but the female lead singer was so off key it became painful. In addition, 2 drunks in the back of the lounge were talking very loudly, so I didn’t see the point of remaining. On my way out, I noticed that someone else went to complain about them. Another problem is that the seating in the Rembrandt Lounge is the worst. The floor is not raked, so the heads of the people in front of you are in the way. To make matters worse, instead of theatre seats, the seating alternates with low sofas and higher club chairs. So if you are on a sofa the people in front of you in the club chairs are really blocking your view. Upstairs is a different story, but not better. You need to view the show through the glass panels underneath the railing in the first row. So perhaps it’s fitting that the worst entertainment is offered up in the worst show lounge. The music in the other lounges was a better choice. The best was the British rock band called JET SET (2 female singers and 3 male musicians) who appeared nightly in the Crow’s Nest Lounge. Trouble was they finished before midnight to allow for a lousy d.j. to take over. This was especially true on Halloween night when the place was jumping with a costume party. The minute JET SET finished up and the d.j. started, half the place emptied. I did enjoy the steel drum band at the pool. I did visit the casino on several occasions where I tried out the video poker machines. I did okay following the basic strategy system. The machines are not full payout and it got too boring after a while to play for a long time. The slot machines were tight but of course some people did win. Speaking of winning, I was told that the winner of the free cruise at Bingo was on the ship as a free cruise from a Bingo jackpot on a prior cruise. Talk about being luck! I only played the final game when the jackpot goes. This was because the friends I made wanted to play it too. Oh well, they only got me for $20. Good thing I’m not addicted to Bingo. It gets costlier than the slots. On board activities weren’t the best either, but the gym was very good and I used it on several occasions to warm up my bones before doing the mile walk on the promenade deck. There was even a refrigerator with cold towels. The swimming pools (2 - one mid-ship on Lido Deck; one aft on Navigator deck) had fresh water which I prefer. So I found myself, for the first time on any cruise, using the pools quite often. There are 2 Jacuzzi’s by the Lido pools and they were terrific. Fortunately, I didn’t see anyone eating or drinking in them, which is a disgusting activity I’ve seen on other ships. I never had a problem finding a lounge chair. Between the 2 pools there seemed to be enough to accommodate the passengers. However, there was very little shaded area near the pools with lounges. Most of the shaded area was taken up by tables and chairs. I really think they could make do with a few less tables and to make room for some lounges. Since the itinerary (Cozumel, Grand Cayman Island, Ocho Rios & Half Moon Cay) included places I’ve been to before, I spent more time on the ship than in port. Didn’t get off the ship in Cozumel. The dock we used would mean a very long walk in broiling sunlight, so I decided to stay on board. Had a great time by the Lido Pool, which was practically empty until around 1 pm. In Grand Cayman Island I took a tender at around 11 am (got my tender ticket at the Rembrandt Lounge and it was for the next group, so this wasn’t band). Georgetown, Grand Cayman was very, very crowded due to the number of megaships in port. I went snorkeling right in town at a few spots and saw lots of fish. Best part was it was completely free. Didn’t need a taxi and you could walk right into the water down some steps by some dive shops. There were even fresh water showers. Some of the larger ships had long lines to board the tenders back, but Maasdam had no waiting at all. In Ocho Rios I just got off the ship to buy coffee and returned in an hour. Second day at sea was spent by the aft pool. Half Moon Cay was a delight and again, I went snorkeling for free. I landed up spending about 4 hours in the water. This beach is beautiful. The sand is soft and the place never felt too crowded. I took a tender at 8:30 a.m. and didn’t even need a number. Unfortunately, a storm blew in around 1:30 pm, so whoever came late got drenched. I was ready to return to the ship by then (left the sun block in my cabin after applying it in the a.m.), so fortunately I got back at the right time. Someone mentioned to me that it’s no accident that Half Moon Cay was saved for the last stop, since it makes such a spectacular last impression. The only improvement could be the barbecue (I know, again with the food). I’ve come to the conclusion that the cruise lines (not just HAL) save a bundle by doing this barbecue and shutting down the formal dining room on the ship that day. Burgers, hot dogs and barbecue chicken really don’t take a big bite out of their budget (no crab claws here!). But the fresh fruit was appreciated. I am looking forward to re-visiting Half Moon Cay when I sail on the Zuiderdam in February. In addition to the beach, there are other parts of the island to explore as there are nature trails, some shops and they even run a shuttle from the plaza closest to the tender pier and the barbecue pavilion. I also understand that a walk along the beach to the further end from the tender pier affords some beautiful views of the beach. One area where HAL’s reputation was apparent is the display of fresh flowers throughout the ship. The arrangements are masterpieces and it really pained me to see them get dumped on the last night, to make way for fresh ones for the next sailing. Disembarkation was a very easy procedure. The do have you up rather early but in the long run, it paid off because I was off the ship by 8:45 a.m. You are assigned a disembarkation number. But the numbers were called very quickly. I had purchased a transfer to the Ft. Lauderdale airport for $12. Try to avoid doing this as a cab ride is only $10. and the cab will let you off by your airline check-in. The bus furnished by HAL lets you off between the terminal buildings and you need to either carry your bags a ways or else pay a redcap to do this for you. HAL should make the transfer as economical, if not less money than the taxi ride. The fact that you also had to carry your bags to your check-in made it even more of an insult. I’ve leaned my lesson and will cab it in the future. So what you have here is a pretty good time on a pretty good ship. HAL never includes the number 10 on its passenger rating sheets because it feels there’s always room for improvement. Apparently there is room for improvement on Maasdam, but you can still have an enjoyable cruise.

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Nov 30, -0001

Eastern Caribbean

My mother-in-law and I sailed on Maasdam from 22-29 Sept., on her eastern Caribbean itinerary. We found the ship to be clean and comfortable, and we enjoyed the week very much, despite very hot and humid weather. It was Mom’s first cruise ever, and she was glad to have a traveling companion who had some experience. (We also get along really well, which helps a lot!) Although it was my 7th cruise, it was my first on Holland America.

We were blessed to be unaffected by three hurricanes (Isidore, Lili and Kyle), and had calm seas for most of the week. We both enjoyed the ship’s size, not too big and not too small, with lots of open space and never really feeling crowded. Décor is pleasant, with wood walls and furnishings, and the carpets, drapes etc. tending to dark blues and burgundies. The artwork and fresh flowers which Holland America is famous for were in evidence. On Maasdam the art displays tended to be smaller scale than on Veendam, with lots of Delft tea sets, antique navigation equipment, Chinese paintings, etc. The 17th-century cannon, barrel pointing at you as you walk from the atrium toward the casino or the shops, is rather startling at first! The ship as a whole was very clean, and seemed to be in pretty good shape despite her 9 years of service. I didn’t notice any signs of undue wear and tear. The passenger mix was, as I expected, heavily skewed toward post-retirement ages, but there still were a pretty good number of middle-aged and young couples, a surprising number of single travelers (not sharing cabins) and even a few young families, despite school being open for much of the country. There were 4 or 5 babies in arms on board, a few toddlers, and perhaps 20 or so other children between the ages of 6 and 18. Club HAL was in operation, as I saw the children involved in some outdoor activities on occasion, but I did not find out what opinions were of it. The club rooms (one each for younger and older kids) were small and not very impressive, though they each featured some computers. There was a small video arcade tucked behind some shops, which seemed rather hot and airless the day I peeked in, but it was certainly busy that day! There was a large 200-member church group onboard as well, which may have affected some of the demographics; most of them came with their entire families, and I am certain many were first-time cruisers. I enjoyed watching them have lots of fun, especially on the private island. I was not sure what to expect as far as food and service, having heard some negative reports recently, but I was not disappointed in either. The food was tasty, with lots of choices both in the dining room and the buffet, and for the most part was prepared well. I will admit I am rather easily pleased in this department! There is one main dining room, the Rotterdam, a nice two-level space at the stern with large windows on both levels. The standard Lido-deck buffet is quite large, with two main lines, a smaller one in between for continental breakfast and salad bar; the ice cream and bread pudding stations are located here as well. At one end of the main pool area on the same deck is a burger-hot dog-taco bar station, and the burger I had there one day was delicious. There were a few dishes Mom and some others at our table did not care for, but on the whole I would class the food as very good. Those who find unusual, creative or gourmet food preparation important, however, may wish to choose a different cruise line, but those who prefer things that are somewhat familiar, perhaps with a different twist to them, should be satisfied here. The dinner menu was not repeated throughout the week, except for steak, prime rib and salmon, which appeared several times. Out of a total of 8 or 9 daily entrée choices, I don’t see that as a drawback! Desserts really shine. The ice cream bar, with a choice of flavors and self-serve toppings, is open nearly all day at no extra charge, which I loved! And the bread pudding at lunch in the buffet was heaven! Weak spots: unimaginative green salads, and a lack of available juices or lemonade – juice was only available at breakfast, and the only beverage choices the rest of the day and evening at no extra charge were ice tea, coffee and water. Service I thought was excellent, with only one minor glitch. Our cabin steward, Hartono ("Hart" for short), was warm and friendly and did a great job. Our waiter and assistant waiter, Rizal and Ruslan, were equally pleasant, and performed their duties well too. I like Holland America’s service – friendly with never a feeling of insincerity, but not in-your-face overfriendly either. The stewards always greeted us each time they saw us, Hart calling us by name, and asked how we were. The purser’s office staff were always friendly and helpful, which came in especially handy on the last day of the cruise when our cabin toilet stopped up. Somehow the order made it from the steward to the purser, but the engineers never picked up on it, and after all day (fortunately we were onshore for most of it) and several follow-up calls to the purser, the repairman finally came and fixed it. Entertainment I would class as fair to good. The cruise director, John Challenger, was funny and kept things moving along; he seemed somewhat low-key compared to his counterparts on other cruise lines I have sailed. I really enjoyed the comedian, Dwayne Cunningham, and was happily amused by the magician, Sam Simon, and the song and dance group (known as the “cast of the Maasdam”), though the quality of the singing was only fair, with a few lead singers off key on more than one occasion. I was a bit lost by the juggler, Barnaby. I loved how the individual entertainers involved members of the audience, some of whom stole the show, and we ended up with some good “in jokes” for the entire passenger list! I did not frequent the late-night lounges (Mom and I are not night owls) so can’t really rate them. Nor did I use the casino, though many of our tablemates did. Not surprisingly, the money balance was tipped in favor of the ship over the course of the week. The movie theater showed 2 recent movies each day, and Mom watched a couple of them. There was the usual complement of activities: trivia contests, bingo, various competitions in basketball, volleyball, and other sports, the Newlywed & Not-so-Newlywed game, scavenger hunts, etc., but those who live for hairy legs contests or Carmen Miranda dress-ups should book with a different cruise line. One aspect of the entertainment which really appealed to Mom and me was that it is clean and family-friendly – nothing R-rated. Much appreciated! We chose a mini-suite on Verandah deck, and were very pleased with it. There was plenty of room for two people, with lots of storage space (we didn’t even use all of the closet space) and a large bathroom with full tub. The balcony was spacious, being almost as deep as it was wide, and was visually private both to the sides and above. In addition to twin beds (which could be put together if desired), we had 2 nightstands, each with a locking drawer; a large desk with mirror, small table, couch (which contained a pullout bed), chair, and small fridge. The TV showed several on-ship channels, including one that showed alternating movies (2 each day)  Lighting was more than adequate, though we hadn’t even figured out which switches worked which lights by the end of the week!  Taking a quick peek at a few other cabins (inside, outside and full suite) while they were being made up, it seemed that all were relatively spacious compared to some other ships. The suite I looked into had a dining table with at least 4 chairs, in addition to bedroom and living space; it was twice the width of our cabin. As much has been written about the different ports, I won’t address them in much detail. Our favorite port was Half Moon Cay, Holland America’s private island. The white-powder sand beach is gorgeous! There are tents and open-air shelters everywhere, housing picnic tables, misting stations, massage stations, and bars, with a large shelter where the onshore BBQ lunch is served. Several large restrooms with changing areas are positioned throughout the grounds, and a few open-air souvenir shops too. Everything is kept very clean, and workers were constantly sweeping sand from the patios and paved walks. (Most paths are sandy, however, and can be a good workout.) Those with mobility problems, however, have no good way to enjoy the island; some wheelchair-bound passengers could not even get there, as the ship anchors offshore and tenders everyone over via lifeboat. A few warnings: there can be problems with biting insects, mostly mosquitoes and sand fleas, so take insect repellent. The usual warning regarding sunscreen/sunblock applies too – the sun is very strong there, and multiplied if you’re in or near the water. And some of the shops have concrete curbs which aren’t clearly marked; Mom nearly fell off one, and another passenger did, needing medical attention as a result. There is plenty to do on Half Moon Cay, from relaxing on a beach chair or a rented floating mat to banana boat rides, snorkeling, kayaking, scuba and parasailing. We would have enjoyed Nassau, San Juan and St. Thomas more if the weather had been better; it was very hot on St. Thomas (in the 90’s – even the locals were complaining!), rainy in San Juan, and hot also in Nassau. The port call there is very short, only ½ day, and in some ways could be better served with more time in one of the other ports, or at sea. However, it was nice to have the break, as there is a day and a half at sea between Nassau and San Juan. We booked a shore excursion through the ship due to the short time there, which visited Ardastra Gardens and some of the historic sites, and enjoyed that quite a bit, though it felt a bit rushed. We enjoyed San Juan, despite the rain (we did have rain gear with us), and I would like to go back and spend more time there. Also enjoyed the ride up the Paradise Point tram on St. Thomas, with a great view, although it was quite hazy. Shopped mostly at Havensight Mall – less crowded, clean, the shops air conditioned, and no hassles from aggressive salespeople. Disadvantages of cruising in the fall: hot weather and the chance of having itineraries changed or having to deal with rough weather due to hurricanes. Advantages: good cruise prices, and less crowded ports – we only had to share each with one other ship, except for Half Moon Cay, which we had to ourselves. I would recommend Holland America to those who are comfortable with a slightly slower pace and an older passenger mix, who like a few familiar things (foods etc.) as well as a few new experiences, who enjoy clean, family-friendly entertainment but aren’t extremely fussy about the quality of the performers, who are moderately to less active (no rock climbing walls here!), and who enjoy moderately-sized cruise ships. Those who want nonstop physical activity, huge ships, being around a younger crowd, fabulous gourmet food, or very active and busy children’s programs, should consider other cruise lines, at least in the Caribbean.

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Nov 30, -0001

to see the island

Holland America Maasdam is the place to be When you wish to cruise on the sea The crew was fantastic The food was divine Especially when accompanied By a fine wine All of those smiling faces on the crew Lit up the ship and the passengers too Thank you for an enjoyable first time cruise The prices of the drinks were a little too high We are ordinary people and that is why We wish we could have brought our own drinks on board We would have

still bought some as a reward. We had fun earning the dam dollars too It took some ingenuity this is true. Lebay was a real charmer what can I say She managed to get Bill to buy wine every third day With all of those wonderful people around us each day We wouldn't have had it any other way The food was terrific most of the time. I enjoyed all of my meals. Sis really looked after us well in our stateroom. It was big enough to suit us, as we weren't in it that long anyway. we had fun doing what we wanted to do on board and there certainly was lot to do. didn't take ship excursions toured on our own. It was our first cruise as I said so it took a while to get settled into the routine. We enjoyed stopping at the different Islands and touring all over and it really was nice to come back to the same stateroom each day and not to have to pack and unpack all of the time. I have lots of memories of the people we met and the things that we did. They will have to last me for a while now. The Philipino lunch was really nice. We enjoy trying new foods, etc. The supper the last night with the show was great. There were times that I really wish the boat would have stopped rocking but that was due to the waves which couldn't be helped.

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