We are addicted to cruising. This is our 15th cruise in less than four years and we have the Caronia booked for August 31st We hope to make many more.
This is a lengthy review. We tried to be as thorough as possible so that the reader would have a very good idea of what it would be like to cruise on the Maasdam. This was our first cruise on the Maasdam and we came away with some mixed feelings for Holland American Line.
AN UNEXPECTED CRUISE: Our cruise agent sent us a special they had just received from HAL. It seems they needed to fill some cabins on the Maasdam for their July cruise to the Baltic and they called their top agencies with a very special discounted price. It didn't take us very long to decide it was to good an offer to turn down. We have just returned from that cruise and we will share our experience with you.
As we have said in past reviews, we all look at things from a different perspective. When you read this review please remember it is only our opinion and you have to discern for yourself if our tastes are similar to yours. We will give you an honest, straight forward opinion of what we feel were the highlights and the negatives of our cruise.
Maasdam: Holland America Line; 55,000 tons; 1,266 passengers; crew of 618; launched 1994 , 720 feet long; 101 feet at beam; Dutch Officers and Indonesian-Filipino crew; 9 passenger decks.
PACKING FOR THE CRUISE: It seems our society is becoming more casual each day. We enjoy getting dressed up. To us it's one of the nicest features of cruising and it is very appealing to us. That is one of the reasons we look forward to the formal nights. There is something very elegant about being among a group of people who are all dressed for the occasion. But the dress code on this cruise seemed to have gone down hill. Nobody. seemed to pay to much attention to the suggested attire of the day. We could only spot a few tuxedoes among the passengers on formal nights and there was even a few who entered the dining room in jeans or cut offs We hope that the casual trend doesn't become the norm for the cruise lines. If it does, cruising will have lost a lot of its appeal.
EMBARKATION: We flew to a rainy Stockholm from a sunny day in Oslo. We had a Limo pick-up at the Airport, and arrived at the terminal at 14:20. Very smooth, The check in process was NOT as efficient. Even though we arrived somewhat late (Embarkation started at noon) there were HUGE lines. A major problem we immediately encountered was a lack of information. Both on the part of employees conducting the process who seemed untrained, and the fact that they had no true help desk (just an individual who could explain what to do if your bags were lost). Person number 1 had to ask person number 2 who could answer our question etc…
The Terminal was an old warehouse were they had put up a line of tables and had representatives from HAL with portable computers who tried to checked you in. What probably made this a chaos was that NOBODY had gotten their cruise documents in advance so when we finally got to the end of the line we were given forms to fill out and had to go out of the line and start the process all over again. There was NO places to sit and NO places to fill out the forms so people were scattered all over the place NOT A GOOD START.
At 4:25 we boarded but then it seemed like all the cabin stewards had gone to other duties and we had to wait 15 minutes before we were escorted to our cabin.
CABIN: We had an outside cabin #755, on A Deck. It was a good sized cabin, with a queen sized bed, full pull out sofa, with adequate closet and drawer space. We are both bath persons and love having a tub. All of HAL's outside cabins have tubs but you can NEVER stretch out fully in them. The shelf space in the bathroom was very limited. On the shelf they had a very nice assortment of creams, lotions and shampoo. It was more than adequate.
There was a basket of fruit on the desk area, which was replenished each day. The Television channels were very limited. CCN, two Movie channels and the rest were various HAL related programs. Our cabin steward Lewi kept the cabin immaculate. He lived up to our judgement of what is a good steward. We rarely saw him but everything that needed to be done was taken care of. But that was first after two days. What met us when we opened the door was far from pleasant. Dirty carpet, half eaten fruit, papers and information from previous guests. It seemed to us that they did NOT have enough time from disembarkation in the morning until they started Embarking. At the end of the cruise we found out why.
SAIL AWAY PARTY: The sail away party was held on the aft pool deck. A steel band supplied the rhythms and we hoped this would get the cruise off to a better start.
CHECKING TABLE ARRANGEMENTS: We make a habit of checking our table arrangements as soon as it is possible and we suggest you do so. If it turns out they aren't what you requested, you have a better chance of getting them changed if you see the Maitre`di as soon as you can. Because of our late booking we weren't confirmed for the late seating.
We were originally seated in the middle of the lower level of the dining room, but managed to change and were seated at the back at the lower level with perfect sea view.
DINING ROOM: The Maasdam dining room is unique among some of the dining rooms we have seen on our cruises. We were originally seated in the middle of the lower level of the dining room, but managed to change and were seated at the back at the lower level with perfect sea view. The ceiling above the open area is certainly a work of art. It consists of 600 to 700 individual Venetian glass shades that look like inverted petunia blossoms. They are about 18 inches at the opening and are set at four different levels but all placed closely together. Instead of a light bulb in each one, they have a filament that is imbedded in the fluted glass approximately five inches from the base. The lighted ceiling is breath taking and is truly a work of Art. The dining room walls are mostly glass, giving the diner the ability to look out at the ocean when having breakfast and lunch. The openness to the sea gives the dining room a very bright, cheerful, pleasant atmosphere. We were sorry we didn't have breakfast there more often.. What could have been another very appealing feature of the dining room was a large sunken music area on the upper balcony level, where the String Quartet played during dinner. But being on the lover level you can barely hear the music and if you can it is mostly annoying. We were VERY disappointed to find that they kept the dining room closed for lunch most of the cruise because if you don't make it for breakfast its so nice to go down to a quiet lunch in the dining room (after all you are on vacation) but NOT so on this cruise WHY??
It is now HAL's policy that on the second formal night of the cruise they reset the tables with off white damask table clothes and napkins and then they do something we have never seen done before. They completely covered the chairs with off white coverings, that were form fitting and hung to the floor. It gave a most unusual but very rich appearance. It created an elegant look that added immeasurably to the formal night atmosphere. It gave you the feeling you were going to experience something very special. But the way people dressed it was NOT so special.
FOOD, MAIN DINING ROOM: The food varies a great deal from dish to dish, ranging from flavorless to divinely prepared and cooked we've had meat and fish that was over-cooked.
The evening we were served Lobster Tails, they were of good size and broiled to perfection.. Each evening they gave us a choice of salad and either one was excellent. We found the desserts and pastries to be much better. They had a very good assortment and they were very tasty.
Although the food was NOT ALWAYS as good as we expected the dining room service at dinner was better than the food. Actually, for us (and we think for many) the service is at least 40% of the meal. We had a wonderful group of servers, starting with Emy, our waiter, the assistant waiter, and Willy Ocuisin, the wine steward. They couldn't do enough for us. They catered to us and pampered us as if we were the only guests in their dining area. I don't think we have ever seen a group of people that were as warm, friendly and sincere as our servers.
Unfortunately this was NOT the case at other occasions. There is something very appealing about the Indonesian and Filipino people. There is almost a naivete, innocence about them. Angus, a very handsome young man, was an outstanding assistant Maitre`di. On many ships the Maitre`di comes around to each table each night to say a few words so you will remember to tip him on the last night, Not. Poured water helped serve, helped clean off tables, helped serve dessert, did everything. I told him if we were in the restaurant business, we would steal him away from HAL. I think he was very pleased with that comment.
THE OCEAN BAR WHERE THEY PLAYED OUR KIND OF MUSIC: The Ocean Bar is a delightful lounge where we had cocktails before and after dinner. Just as I said about the dining room crew, the lounge servers went out of their way to take care of our every need. I can't think of any other ship that serves hot hors d`oeuvres while your waiting for your cocktail order. They do on the Maasdam. One man stood out in this. His name was Edgar and he seemed to be everywhere. Whenever they had a special function he was there. But whenever we were in the Ocean Bar and he was working, he knew our names, our drinks and what we liked. A very good man. They did this every evening. And just before we would leave, Roderick would show us the dining room menu for that night so we could have an advanced look at what they were serving.
In the Ocean Bar, they feature a very accomplished trio that played the kind of music we like. That good old forties & fifties music. That romantic music of that period that makes you want to hold your spouse just a little closer and just little tighter. I can't think of a nicer way to start an evening than to have a table in a intimate lounge and to be served hors d`oeuvres and cocktails We saw many of the same people in the lounge each evening and got to spend time with some of them. One couple we met, they, had cruised 26 times and have traveled extensively. We found we had a lot in common with them and intend to keep in touch through E-Mail.
The piano player and leader of the group, was an exceptional piano player. He had a very small keyboard on top of the piano, with which he could create all the different sounds of an orchestra. He played one of a Jack Jones hit songs, ‘Here's That Rainy Day,' that was as good a rendition as we have ever heard. If you like to dance, or if you just like to listen to some good music, spend some time in the Ocean Bar. If you would like to hear something special, ask the group to play, ‘Here's That Rainy Day.'
We never went to the Crows Nest, a disco lounge, at the top of the ship. We understand it was very nice but it's not our choice of music. We understand they also served hot and cold hors d`oeuvres.
PIANO BAR: There is also a piano bar on the upper promenade deck. Keith Kerslake keeps things lively by getting the group to sing along with him. We didn't participate but we passed the entrance two or three times a night and he always had a good crowd and everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves. If you sail the Maasdam, you will be impressed by the two magnificent huge bouquets of flowers on each side of the entrance. This might be the time to tell you that we have never seen as many beautiful floral bouquets as we saw on the Maasdam. But there is more to a cruise than nice flowers
EXPLORERS LOUNGE: The Explorers lounge has a very unusual setting. What normally would be a wall facing the deck area, is instead the back of the lounges that have very comfortable seating for two's and four's and sixes. It gives the lounge a very open feeling. On the right hand side is a slightly raised area, again with lounges but with higher backs which gives you the impression you are in a separate room. In this area is a small bandstand that is the home of the String Quartet. They play there every night but unfortunately this is badly placed as this is a highly trafficked area and it is often difficult to hear It would have created a more intimate space if there had been a divider between the lounge and the walkway.
HIGH TEA: This was a disaster and one of our saddest experiences It is served in the Rotterdam dining room from 3:30 to 4:00.??? Which is too short for ANYONE to get served. It is supposed to be white glove service and was NOT done very well but what can you do in half an hour with 500 passengers present.??
They served tea and an assortment of finger sandwiches, Petit Fours and pastries, but it seemed they worked on the principle of estimating how many would show and making an exact number of items. They ran out of everything except tea. And there were two tables that never got served at all.
Once again we had a dirty cup, but this time it was ON THE TABLE.
Roger was exasperated to see that the entire tray of cream cakes went to one table near us (they hadn't been served any sandwiches earlier), Right after the waiter had given Mike more tea. He ignored MY empty cup and didn't notice that Mike was using cream (although the tea in the cup clearly had cream in it and he had served us both earlier).
Note: We blame Management in this entirely. Staff needs to be trained better if they are to use such a tight timetable and as a matter of fact better training would ensure the staff uses a more thorough method of keeping track of who has and has not been served. It might also be that the staff is NOT familiar with the "Theme" of "high tea" but then again this goes back to the training of personnel.
Recommendations: MOVE the tea to the explorer lounge. This room creates a much more intimate feeling. ALSO PLEASE give people just a little more time for serving tea in the future. At least 2 hours is required. half an hour is a joke if you should provide any quality service for such an event.
JAVA CAFE: The Java Cafe is a place that serves Coffee, Cappuccino, Coffee Latte, and chocolate chip cookies from 9:00 in the morning till 4:00 in the afternoon, ALL FOR FREE. It's right across from the Wajang Theater. The cute little girl that takes care of this venue is Evangeline. She is as sweet and fresh as the morning dew. When we cruise we usually have two cups of Cappuccino or Coffee Latte each day, at a cost of $2.50 a cup or $10.00 dollars a day. Because of the recent wave of cruise lines charging extra for many items, it's even more impressive that Hal includes this in their ticket price, ALL FOR FREE!
THE LIDO LUNCH AND ALTERNATE DINNING ROOM: The food was good. For breakfast they made eggs to order. At lunch time they had 4 or 5 hot meat dishes each day and a very good variety of lunch items. They also have a very nice salad bar. There is also an area where they display assorted pastry with an attendant standing by to serve you. Toward the later part of lunch they put the pastries and assorted sandwiches in a cylindrical refrigerated display case that rotates. When you decide what you want you wait till it comes around and when you open the door it stops rotating and you can take out your selection.
If you would like to hear a little piano music while your having lunch, go to the port side of the Lido in the aft section, and you will find it makes for a very pleasant lunch.
Part of the Lido is used for alternate dinning. The tables are plain and they have a limited menu. Its popular for families that have been ashore and don't feel like getting dressed up for dinner and for those who are looking for a more relaxed atmosphere.
Note: the first day we ate Lunch here and Roger had a rude awakening. Although he liked the prime beef and thought it great they had bread pudding for lunch, he found an entire tray of Dirty Cups setting to be used as clean. MAKE NO MISTAKE ABOUT THIS: Roger didn't misunderstand, these cups were inverted sitting on a tray and had been through a dishwasher. But they get really grimy when hot chocolate or many coffees are served in them. These should have been hand scrubbed they were so bad, but it didn't get done. It sets a bad tone when you see this…and the steward said the guests do that (believe me these came out of the kitchen this way).
LIDO ICE CREAM BAR: One of the most popular places on the ship is the Lido ice cream bar. You can get four different flavors of ice cream and they change every day. You can also get Yogurt in a waffle cone..After you get your ice cream they have an area that you can get all the fixings to make a sundae, fresh whipped cream, chocolate, butterscotch, raspberry syrup, every kind of nuts, shaved chocolate, sprinkles or just about anything else you can use with ice cream. IT'S ALL FOR FREE. A day never went by that we didn't at least make one visit to the ice cream bar, and we have the weight to show for it.
THE POOL AREA: The Maasdam has a very nice pool area. The first thing that catches your eye is a bronze sculpture by the steps of the pool featuring five leaping dolphins. It's a very beautiful piece of art. The pool has a five foot area extending from the coping that is flooded with 6-8 inches of water. It's very enjoyable to lay down with your back against bench, surrounding the pool, and have the water slosh back and forth across your body, with the movement of the ship.
There are two Jacuzzi's adjoining the pool. The pool has a sliding glass paneled roof enclosure that can be closed when it rains or partially closed to block out the wind for evening deck parties.
At one end of the pool is the Pool bar with a charming seating area with tables & wicker chairs. On the opposite end of the pool is a Frank & Hamburger grill. Adjoining this area is a another cooking station where you can get various kinds of Semi-Mexican food. In truth it isn't all that much as it also produces various pasta and barbequed chicken (or grilled fish at times). The problem for us is that we lived in States of Arizona/New Mexico, and for us Mexican Food means Taco's, Burritos, Enchaladas, Chimi's etc. What they have tasted good, but it wasn't all that Mexican. A chef stands by to assist you in making a choice. There is another very nice pool with abundant lounges on the lower deck at the aft end of the ship. This area is a nice quiet hide away from everything and offers Great views.
Note: the first 24 hours both pools were very cold, but by the beginning of day three, they were very warm and in fact too warm just before returning to Stockholm.
What could have been another very nice touch by Holland American is that at 11:0'clock in the morning they serve lemonade to everyone on the open decks but if you are a minute late they are out, and at 3:0'clock in the afternoon they serve ice tea to everyone with the same result at 3.05 they don't have it anymore. STOP TEASING if you are offering a treat to your guest at least give them a chance to get what you offer.
ENTERTAINMENT: This is not a strong point with HAL. I think they cater to a clientele that doesn't consider entertainment that important.
I think they concentrate on other amenities that are much more appealing to their cruisers. The best that can be said for the production shows is that they were nice.
CAPTAINS PARTY: Started out nicely but where was the captain or staff from the bridge?? We think they missed a great opportunity to add additional enjoyment to the occasion. They had the Maasdam show orchestra on stage. They played the great standards and everyone was tapping their feet to the rhythm but no one ever made a announcement inviting the guests onto the stage to dance, which is done on most ships. We all sat in our seats for 50 minutes waiting for the Captain to be introduced but no one from the bride or the captain ever showed as a matter of fact we were kindly asked to leave to give room for first seating evening entertainment. And this was done by the Cruise Director, not a ship's officer.
CASINO: Quite small. Very little action. I think this is another example of Holland American knowing their clientele. They put their money and efforts into the areas they know their guests prefer.
STAFF: Most of Ships Officers are Dutch or from former Dutch possessions. Although Roger believes one of the Officers said they were from Sierra Leone. The Entertainment and Shore Excursion Staff seem to be from the USA, primarily. Those working in the Casino, Shops and Spa are from England. The rest of the crew seems to be from Indonesia, the Philipines, or a few scattered locatins in SE Asia. But all were able to understand English fine.
The only real problem it seemed to us, was that they need to train some of their staff better, and in fact it did appear many were new and had just been assign on the ship.
SHORE EXCURSIONS: We took three shore excursions. Living partly in Scandinavia we knew the Scandinavian countries well and did NOT go ashore in Helsinki, Visby and participated in the City-tour of Stockholm
TOUR 57003 - Panoramic Tallinn- what can we say - the weather was bad and our Guide spent half the trip telling us how poor she was and that she needed money as their economy is so bad. The highlight of the tour was the GOOD LAUGH we all had when she told us her husband built their house from the tip money they got in the past. We had expected a level of professionalism, and not just a long request for money…we are not heartless, and we do know all too well what the Nazi's, the Russians and others did to this country. We do care that people have had problems, but they need to be trained not to solicit like this.
TOUR 24815- Peterhof & Pushkin Palace, Full Day Tour- We think our Guides name was Ina. At any rate the weather was far better and this guide was professional, candid and good at expressing herself. We think this was quite a contrast and we recommend this tour highly.
TOUR 24814- Hermitage Museum & Peter and Paul Fortress, Full Day Tour- Again good weather and a professional guide. She was honest and good at expressing herself. She had a sense of humor and told us more about their history and culture than you'd expect to have time for. Again we recommend this tour highly.
As expected both days in St. Petersburg were the high point of the cruise.
FRONT DESK AND DISEMBARKATION: THIS WAS DIFFICULT FOR US TO WRITE. Neither of us likes to have confrontations and both think the epitome of good service is to give reasoned and appropriate responses to REASONABLE requests.
We received and "DISEMBARKATION FORM" laying on the bed the first day on the ship. It was associated with an old ships news letter. As these were together, Roger thought the previous passengers left it there. Note that the "DISEMBARKATION FORM" was dated for 23 July 2000. As we came aboard on the 23rd and knew that some passengers had taken a city tour that day, we thought they just left the thing there.
Now, we were to receive another copy of the "DISEMBARKATION FORM" this time showing our correct date of disembarkation (30 July 2000). It had an ominous statement that those who had not turned in "the previous form and failed to submit this form by 0900 28 July 2000, would be placed in an independent group. " This was essentially what they said.
One part of the form required information as to how we would leave.
We reported we had Air arrangements already and that we had no prearranged ground transport.
The form asked if HAL could offer us a trip to the Airport via a buss for $ 85 each. It also offered a city tour for $ 115 each that ended at the Airport.
We already knew that we could get a Taxi to the Airport for $ 94 (both of us together that is, not $ 94 each).
We were on another line that allowed us to tag our bags so that they were placed in a room until we claimed them. After disembarkation we claimed them and went our way. We asked the Front Desk Staff about the possibility of remaining on board till 10:30 or 11:00 and then claiming our bags. We decided to ask if later disembarkation were allowed, BEFORE filling in the form.
This is when things fell apart.
Roger mentioned that we would have turned the form in sooner if only it had been dated correctly. They admitted the form was dated wrong and it was a mistake but not to worry, it was OK.
Meaning what we wondered, we certainly hadn't done anything wrong. But we asked what an independent group was. They couldn't explain.
OK...The Ships Policy is that everyone has to get off the ship a.s.a.p. But this isn't stated…. Instead we got the run around and excuses. They said we had to be out of the room no later than 9 am. Fine. Roger has been a manager and supervisor and understands that sometimes a rule is inflexible and unalterable. He also knows that it is still true that you can't find out if you don't ask! So, we asked about the bags going off first and if we could stay on board till 11:00 thus making our delay at the Airport shorter. We were told there was no where to keep our bags. Also, that the bags HAD to go off immediately. As no one could be responsible for our bags, they might just disappear. Nice. It was also ironic to hear this as HAL lost seven peoples bags before they boarded.
We said just to tell us it wasn't allowed and be done with it. But we were referred to another Officer (in charge we were told) who repeated the whole charade about baggage and customs, etc.
As no one left us any other option save a Taxi, we decided to try the city tour and we completed the form and turned it in.
Tempers on our part had not flared yet. But now we were told that we had to tell the Shore Excursions Desk so we could arrange the tour.
We asked why the people forcing us to make our decision that night couldn't relay our request to the Shore Excursions Desk. This was closed already, as they well knew. AND we were ashore on a tour during the time the forms were distributed and didn't have time to sprint up there after arriving back at the ship at 4:45pm (they close the Shore Excursions Desk at 5 PM!) So we left for dinner.
The next morning in Visby we talked with a member of the Shore Excursions Staff and were told there would be no tour in Stockholm as they wouldn't have made any money on it…less than ten passengers had signed up…OK…So the bus to the Airport was all we could have…but why isn't there an information exchange between the Front Desk and Shore Excursions…how about a call to your room tell you….?
If we had not gone down to speak to the Shore Excursions Staff as they were leaving to take people into Visby …well we'd have found out the next day we suppose, but, this isn't good service. If HAL has had 125 years of such good experience why does something like this happen? We believe it could have been easily prevented.
Note: We watched the bags go off the next day and there was no customs off the boat. Our bags were not protected from the weather at all and were put over next to the busses!!!! YET, we were held on the ship while many others got off and all the ones going ON the busses (we think) went under a tent. Double nice!!!
There was no rain, we got off the ship and picked up our bags. We got a Taxi and were at the Airport in 20 minutes. So, it turned out alright after a fashion. But the run around at the desk was just a waste of time and the buss was just a money maker. Not a service.
Over all we had an enjoyable HAL cruise besides what is mentioned but for HAL to live up to their standard of "excellence"
They have to do a considerable change in certain areas.
We keep notes on our previous cruises since we have our reviews posted on several web sites, we have received a huge amount of mail, asking all kids of questions and asking for our suggestions on various aspects of cruising. We have learned that many of the readers rely heavily on reviews for making critical decisions about when and where and with what line they will make their next cruise. We feel a deepened responsibility to review readers and also to the Cruise lines, that the information that we convey is truthful and honest and as thorough and as unbiased as possible. Because of that realization, we kept a small notebook with us at all times during this cruise and jotted down the things we thought would be of interest. The results of which is this review.
A Note about the survey: We feel that it is NOT right to request a survey to be turned in BEFORE the cruise has ended because the Disembarkation is part of a cruise as well, and because it ALWAYS takes time to digest what you have experienced. By forcing the guest to fill out a survey during the last part of the cruise, it diminishes the ability to accurately rate the cruise in an objective way.