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Holland America Line
Reviewed by: Joe Koshuta, TravelPage.com
Date of Trip: April 8, 2001
Itinerary: Caribbean - Western
The Maasdam is the second of the four Statendam sisters built by Fincantieri Shipyards at Monfalcone, Italy. She made her maiden voyage in November 1993. We have sailed with Holland America numerous times and this voyage ranks as one of the best.
For a ship that is almost 8 years old, she was in great shape and the food and service on board were very good. Weather for the trip was great - temperature in the high 70's to mid-80's and the seas were mostly smooth. We had one evening when the seas were officially "rough" (4-6 meters) and the pools were closed and a number of passengers went to bed early.
The Captain for our cruise was Peter Jan van Maurik and the hotel manager was Nick Burger. We selected this particular cruise mostly because it coincided with the Spring Break vacation for our children.
The public areas of the Maasdam are well laid out and flow easily from one area to the next. There are two banks of elevators and with the exception of boarding day, they were easily accessible.
Our review of the public rooms begins with the Crow's Nest Lounge which overlooks the ships bow forward on the Sports Deck (12). This is a great place to be when the ship is leaving port and after dinner it becomes the ship's disco. The room is accented with angled marble which gives it a more contemporary look than the rest of the other public rooms. A fair number of passengers gather here for before dinner drinks.
Walking towards the stern you cross open deck that doubles as the ships jogging track (10 laps to the mile) since jogging is no longer allowed on the wrap around Lower Promenade. You also pass the retractable "Magrodome" roof that covers the Lido Pool below. On either side of the ship's funnel are paddle tennis courts and a basketball court. Directly behind the funnel area is a small room that serves as the Club Hal youth center for 9-12 year olds. During the December 2000 refit this room became the Waverunner Room and it and the Hudson Room on the Promenade deck were equipped with 16 i-Mac computers and audio and visual equipment. The Maasdam is the first ship in the HAL fleet with dedicated Club Hal facilities.
Walking down the aft staircase brings you to the Lido Deck (11) and the Lido Restaurant. The room is decorated in shades of blue and green and there are two buffet lines which served Breakfast, Lunch and now Dinner. Pizza is also served daily from 4:00 to 5:00 PM. Until recently, dinner for HAL passengers was served exclusively in the dining room. In response to the industry trend of providing an alternative, casual dining venue HAL began serving dinner in the Lido as well.
Most nights from 6:00 to 7:30 you can walk through he buffet line and select your appetizer, soups and salads and then tell the waiter what your would like as your entree. He will direct you to a table and the food will be brought over to you when it is ready. It takes a bit longer than the typical buffet but this approach allows your food to be cooked to order. While we prefer eating in the dining room this was perfect for our son (7) and daughter (5.5) as they were usually too tired from the day's activities to join us for late sitting in the dining room.
Moving forward on the Lido Deck you pass the Dolphin Bar and then then Lido Pool. The Dolphin Bar is outside, under the "Magrodome" roof and is usually open until 6:00 PM. It re-opens from 9:00 until midnight for "Cigars under the Stars". The both the Lido pool and the Navigation Deck pool on deck below are filled with fresh water so if you were looking forward to a dip in a salt water pool you are out of luck. Just past the pool on the left is the Terrace Grill where you can get hamburgers and hotdogs during the late afternoon.
Leaving the pool area you return indoors and pass the Beauty Salon and Ocean Spa Gym. The Spa is staffed by Steiners and provides a wide range of pricey services. The Gym is equipped with Cybex weight machines and a number of treadmills (10) and stair climbing machines (5). Just outside the Gym is a rarely used observation area overlooking the bow. If you could stand the wind this would be a great place for deck chairs.
The Navigation Deck (10) one level down is where the best staterooms on the ship are located with the full suites located forward and the mini-suites midships. Aft on this deck is the Navigation Deck Swimming Pool which is where the crowds gather during sea days.
While the problem of saving deck chairs with personal items (...t-shirts, books, etc.) seems to be rampant on all cruise ships, the wait staff around the pool did a good job of picking up items that appeared to be left solely for that purpose. I also discovered a new approach to the problem which I am happy to share. When you arrive at the pool area and cannot find a chair, take a seat at the edge of the pool and look for the chairs that appear to have been set up by the "early morning chair hogs". If after 15 minutes or so you do not see any sign of use, simply pick up the personal items and move them to an adjoining chair (...chair hogs usually travel in packs) or table and then simply move or drag the entire chair to another location. That way you can relax in your new found chair secure in the knowledge that the chair hog will be unable to find or confront you when he eventually emerges from his lair.
Taking the aft staircase down, you will pass by the Verandah Deck (9) which consists entirely of passenger and crew accommodations and arrive on the Upper Promenade Deck (8) and the entrance to the two level Rotterdam Dining Room. To your left and right are the King and Queen's Rooms which are areas of the dining room that can be closed off for special functions. During the day the King's Room is reserved for passengers who are occupying the Suite accommodations. A graceful staircase leads to the lower level of the dining room and musicians play classical music from the balcony during dinner.
Turning around and moving forward you pass the Video Arcade and Explorer's Lounge on the starboard side and the Library, Internet Cafe and Card Room to port. The Explorer's lounge is a popular gathering place after dinner for drinks and classical music. The Library has a good selection of fiction, non-fiction and travel books. The Internet Cafe offers connectivity to the web for $.95/minute. The speed of the connection has improved over the past year but it's still an expensive way to browse and check e-mail.
Continuing forward you pass the Piano Bar and Shopping Arcade on the starboard side and the Casino and Casino Bar on the port side. The Piano Bar is often a lively spot after dinner and the shops offer crystal, nested eggs, and figurines. The Casino Bar has two large screen televisions that broadcast ESPN all day. The Casino is...well...a casino. With fifty or so slot machines (...one with a Titanic theme) and the appropriate number of blackjack, craps and roulette tables.
Just past Shopping Arcade on the starboard side is the Ocean Bar which became our favorite place for before and after dinner drinks. Bartender Nick Espana (16 years with HAL) and the rest of the guys behind the counter made sure everyone was taken care of and entertained with a variety of magic tricks and personal service.
Across from the Ocean Bar are more shops and boutiques before you get to the balcony of the Rembrandt Theatre. This is the main showroom where you will see the standard cruise mix of show tunes, piano players, magicians and comics.
One deck below, the main level of the Rembrandt Theatre occupies the forward area of the Promenade Deck (7). Exiting the theatre you pass the Photo Gallery on the port side and the Front Office and Shore Excursion Desk to starboard. The Java Cafe where you can get flavored coffees and free popcorn is next. The free popcorn is for the Wajang Theatre which is located across the hallway. Catholic Mass is celebrated each morning and movies and lectures run at selected times during the day and evening. At the end of the hallway are the Hudson Room and the Half Moon Room. Originally a meeting room, the Hudson Room has been converted to Club Hal's Kidzone.
Food is served in the Rotterdam dining room, the Lido restaurant and the Terrace Grill. Room service is also available and you can order dining room menu items from room service while the Rotterdam restaurant is open. The quality of the food in all three areas ranged from very good to excellent.
We ordered breakfast from room service a couple of days and the food arrived promptly and the hot items were hot and the cold items were cold. One of the few complaints we had was that room service never seemed to bring enough silverware. Even though we ordered four orders of eggs we only received two sets of silverware.
In the Lido the quality of the food was excellent and there was quite a variety. In addition to the full buffet line where a wide range of options was available, they also had an express buffet for breakfast where you could get eggs, bacon, sausage and breads without having to wait in line. Even if you decided to go through the line, it was never long and it moved quickly.
The Terrace Grill where you can get burgers, hotdogs and on occasion sausage is open later than the Lido restaurant and is a great place to grab a bite if you get back from a shore excursion after lunch. They also set up a Taco Bar which serves more than just tacos.
Food in the two level Rotterdam Dining Room was very good. Some dishes like the occasional soup lacked some of the flavor I would have liked and the pasta was sometimes overcooked. I really wish the cruise lines would figure out a way to serve it "al dente".
Whatever shortcomings there might have been with some of the foods were more than compensated for by the service of the restaurant staff. After attempting to order steak as my dessert the first evening, our waiter Era immediately pegged me as a lover of beef. This paid dividends the rest of the week as I received very large servings of beef - what he called a "Boston Cut" - on subsequent evenings. On the nights when crab legs and lobster were served, I received these as side dishes.
For dessert I expressed an interest in anything that could be "flambe'd" and once again I was not disappointed. On the first night our Maitre'd Sambra lit up the dining room with "crepes suzette" and each subsequent night I received an order of whatever he happened to be igniting in addition to whatever I ordered for dessert.
The dining room staff all seemed to be wearing smiles all the time, even the morning of disembarkation.
We were in cabin 002 which was the most forward suite on the port side of the ship on the Navigation deck. We backed up to the bridge and could see the Captain and other officers in the bridge wing as we entered or left port.
The room was great for a family and the Hotel Manager told us that almost all of the suites were occupied by families on this cruise. We had a king size bed and the kids slept on a portion of the wrap around couch that folded out. In addition to the main room there was a dressing area with three large closets and a sink plus a full bath and whirlpool tub. Unfortunately the tub is the same size as the other tubs on the ship the only difference being the water jets. Well at least the kids enjoyed it.
There is television with a VCR which was great as we picked up a new video each evening for the children when the baby sitter arrived. There is also a mini-bar which is re-stocked daily.
The verandah was huge with two full lounge chairs plus a table and four chairs. Unfortunately for my wallet after having stayed in a suite I do not think it will possible for our family to settle for anything else on future cruises. Actually, when you compare the cost of the suite with the cost of two cabins - which is the only way to get anything close to the same amount of space - the price is quite reasonable.
On HAL, suite passengers are invited to a VIP reception, a private Cocktail Party and a traditional Indonesian lunch with the Captain and senior staff. You also get free laundry and dry cleaning plus a private dining area (the Kings Room) for breakfast and lunch.
Entertainment on this ship was typical cruise ship fare and was of good quality. Shows included a musical tribute to the 50's and 60's, a piano virtuoso that had been discovered by Liberace, a magician and comedian Don Sherman. We only attended about half of the shows but they were fast paced and high quality.
The cruise staff was very good - they let you know what was going on but were never pushy or intrusive. The Cruise Director, Susan Wood (first female Cruise Director on HAL) was very friendly and accessible. Activities during sea days included the Boat Building contest and games by the aft Navigation Pool.
Even though we had been to most of the ports previously, this time everything seemed different - and better.
Note: Many of the tours fill up very early so it is best to study your options before your board the ship and submit your requests before the lifeboat drill. If you wait until the Shore Excursion office opens that evening many of the more popular tours will be sold out. As one of the first things you do, check out the form in your cabin (there may be additional excursions that are not in the book you receive with your travel documents) and drop it in the box outside the Shore Excursion office.
Our first stop was Cozumel Mexico where we signed up for the snorkel trip to Chankanaab Park. We had originally wanted to visit the Mayan ruins in Tulum but our early departure time of 2:00 PM persuaded us to pick another option. The tour was only $19 pp and departed at 8:15 am.
Note: One of the great things about the Western Caribbean itinerary this time of year is that you gain an hour each of the first two nights. So by the time we reached Cozumel (first day was at sea) we had gained two hours and 8:15 am was no longer early.
Our tour guide led us to a line of taxis at the end of the pier which took us on a 10 minute ride to Chankanaab Park. The park is beautiful - very clean and full of little critters such as lizards, parrots and barracuda. At the park we were met by another guide who walked us to the beach and then handed out snorkel equipment to the group. If you plan on taking your children on a snorkel excursion - there is one at each stop - you might want to consider what we did and pick up a child size vest before you go. They usually have fins and masks for the kids but they do not always have a vest that fits them.
Once we were outfitted, the guide led us down the beach to a place where we waded into the water and then proceeded on a 45 minute tour of the reef and the other underwater sights (...statues and such). During the swim we saw a nice variety of fish including a fairly large Parrot Fish and a 5 ft. Barracuda (...nice fishey, nice fishey).
Our next stop was Grand Cayman and having been to Hell and Stingray City previously, we opted for a quiet day on Seven Mile Beach. Since we were on our own we took a mid-morning tender ashore and asked the local tourist office official where we should go. She recommended a place called the Royal Palm Club so after stopping by a local ATM machine (...which by the way is the last place you can get U.S. dollars on this itinerary) we hailed a cab and headed out to the club.
Ordinarily it would have been exactly what we were looking for - right on the beach, changing rooms, an outside bar/restaurant and water sports. Unfortunately, that day there were 5 cruise ships in Grand Cayman including RCI's Adventure of the Seas, Ocean Princess and Carnival Triumph. Apparently, the passengers on these ships were early risers and by the time we got to the beach it was fairly crowded. No problem, we found a spot and by mid-afternoon most of the Carnival and Royal Caribbean people had left and we had the beach almost to ourselves.
About 2:30 we decided to head back and when the taxi dropped us off at the pier we were shocked to see hundreds of people waiting in line. It was sunny and in the mid 80's and standing in line for a tender was the last thing we wanted to do. Fortunately for us it turned out that the lines were for Carnival (400+ people) and Royal Caribbean (300+ people) and there was no line for the HAL tender - in fact it was only half full when we left for the Maasdam. That particular episode was a great illustration of why we like HAL - you get what you pay for.
The next day we pulled into Ocho Rios, Jamaica early in the morning. There were a couple of brief rain showers right after we arrived but the clouds soon departed and we proceeded ashore. For those of you who have recommended that passengers stay aboard the ship in Jamaica you do not know what you are missing.
I had been to Jamaica a number of times before and this time was by far the best. We took a cab into town in the morning and took a snorkel and sail trip to Dunns River Falls in the afternoon. We negotiated with Norven, our taxi cab driver outside the gates of the docking ares and he took us into town to a shopping area across the street from the "straw market". If you are going to Ocho Rios, skip the Taj Mahal shopping center and go to the one downtown - Soni's. Norven dropped us off there and we agreed that he would return in an hour to take us back to the ship.
In the interim, we bought sugar cane from a street vendor, got my daughter's hair braided ($25) in a stall at the straw market, bought a Sprite and Red Stripe beer ($4) and a wooden alligator and turtle ($5 each - half price!). It was the perfect tourist experience for the whole family and only took one hour and cost less $50 including taxi fare. As promised, Norven returned and took us back to the ship.
We had just enough time to return our wooden critters to our cabin before heading down to the pier for our trip to Dunns River Falls on the catamaran Sanara. This was a new tour ($79) that was not listed in the book you get with your travel documents. If you get a chance to take it - do so. The first part of the trip is a quick motor to the reef where the quide takes you on a snorkel tour and you get to hold a sea cucumber and other sea beings.
The next part of the trip is a motor/sail to Dunns River Falls which is a 600 foot water fall that you climb up as part of a guided group. The falls start in the neighboring mountains and descend to the beach where the fresh water mixes with the ocean It's really quite an adventure and most anyone in reasonable condition should be able to make the climb - both our children did and they had a great time.
At the top of the Falls you follow a path down to the beach where we rejoined the Sanara for a party sail back to the Maasdam. It was a great trip and we recommend it heartily.
Being Spring Break, this particular cruise attracted a younger than average crowd. I would guess that the average age was around 50. There were 200 kids under the age of 18 but almost all of them were well behaved - no scooters or gangs crowding the stairwells. We met some great people including the ship's Doctor (Dr. Jerry) and his wife and would most certainly invite these people over for dinner if they were in town.
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