Holland America Line - Cruisemates Reader's Cruise Reviews

Holland America Line

by Ernie Roller
June 5, 2003

Cabin: 328 (Outside Category C)

Pictures site: http://public.fotki.com/eroller/maasdam_6-5-2003/

Rather then write a traditional review of this latest cruise, I thought I would do something a little different and categorize the different aspects of the vacation into pros (+) and cons (-). These are usually the items most avid cruisers are interested in anyway. I've also included a link for pictures taken at the top of this review.

Before we get started, a little cruising history about myself. I'm 36, partnered, and live in Atlanta Georgia. I consider myself fairly experienced regarding cruises, having some 50+ sailings under my belt. I've sailed all the major lines (Princess, Carnival, Celebrity, Royal Caribbean, Holland America, NCL, Cunard), and some not so major (Silversea, Premier, Sitmar, Home Lines, Royal Viking Line, Dolphin, Chandris, etc). As you can probably tell, I love ships and being at sea. It has been about 10 years since I've sailed on Holland America, so this was somewhat of a reunion for me. I was interested in the changes that have evolved over the years, and as you can imagine I encountered many, although happily many HAL traditions still exist.

Celebrity Cruises is probably my favorite line, and continues to be so even after experiencing HAL again. This is not to say that one is better then the other, but just a personal preference of my own regarding the style, décor, ambiance, procedures, etc. onboard Celebrity. Unfortunately, I did not find MAASDAM to be as clean as she could be (I guess HAL is no longer the "spotless fleet"?), whereas Celebrity ships sparkled in comparison. I did find the dining room service and food to be excellent, probably a notch above Celebrity. The fact that so many crew and staff remembered your name after one encounter is truly remarkable, and does make one feel very special on HAL. If I were to make an analogy of Holland America and Celebrity to car companies, I would place HAL with Cadillac and Celebrity with Lexus. Both are luxurious, but the Lexus has a few more bells, whistles, and style, while the Cadillac is American, comfortable, and familiar. Both are good products, just different. Why compare Celebrity and Holland America in the first place? A couple reasons come to mind. The Celebrity INFINITY was my last cruise just a couple months ago, so it is fresh in my mind. Also, Holland America and Celebrity have two different parent companies and are in direct competition with each other, argue ably as the last two remaining large premium cruise lines.

Most of the details regarding the cruise went rather well with only a few glitches. Embarkation and especially disembarkation were probably the best I've ever experienced with the exception of Silversea. I was able to make a 10:20am return flight home with no problems, and even had time to spare. Of two unfortunate items, the first was a dirty cabin upon arrival. There were old magazines under the couch cushions, left over cookies and vitamins in the nightstand drawer, and lots of dust everywhere. Happily the problems were rectified and service improved considerably for the remainder of the cruise. This lack of detail seemed evident in other areas onboard MAASDAM as well. Chipping paint, steel grates that were rusting apart, carpet stains, scratched elevators, etc. While MAASDAM was very comfortable, she did not feel very clean, and maybe a little tender loving care or better yet, a dry-dock is in order. The second unsettling item was that I never received a cruise questionnaire survey on the last day. The Cruise Director made a point of how important it was to fill these out, coaching all guests each step of the way. When I enquired at the Front Office, I was told it would be delivered later in the day. Later in the day I enquired again, and was told the surveys were all distributed and no more were available. I find this rather appalling as it gives the impression that HAL does not care. I was told to write my comments on a piece of paper and drop it off. Unacceptable. I'm not sure who is responsible for the comments form, but I was curious if it was the cabin steward that he may have purposely omitted the distribution of my form due to our earlier problems? Just a passing thought. In any case, it's hard to believe HAL did not have extras on hand.

A word about my fellow passengers. A nice and polite group, if not rather sedate. Very white middle class America "plain Jane's" if you will. I'm not saying this in a negative way, just stating a fact. Diversity was certainly lacking on this sailing. There was very little dressing up, even less then a short Carnival cruise I took last year. I wore a tux and I would estimate that only 2% of the gentleman wore tuxes. I don't know if this is typical of Holland America, or maybe just because it was Alaska, or possibly just a one-off occurrence? There was very little nightlife to speak of, and this is what I remember most of my last HAL cruise and one of the reasons I have not sailed with them in some time. I'm not looking for a Carnival atmosphere every night, but a little activity after 11pm is appreciated.

One last thing before the pros and cons. Alaska! Wow, what a gorgeous place! We had incredible weather in all our ports, and in fact many locals called each day a "top 10" and kept reminding us how lucky we were. It was so warm during some days that passengers were sunbathing. My partner and I only took one tour, and that was a rail and bike journey in Skagway. I can't say enough about this incredible experience, which included a 2 hour train ride on the scenic White Pass & Yukon Route Railroad ( www.wpyr.com ) to Fraser B.C., then a fleet of 24 speed mountain bikes awaited us as we rode the 26 mile journey back to downtown Skagway. The view was breathtaking as was the weather. There were about 12 of us all together, and as I was riding through those snow-capped mountains all I could think about was the Sound of Music! Yes, "Climb Every Mountain" was buzzing in my head and I felt like one of the von Trapp children following Maria through Austrian countryside. :) What an amazing experience!

Ok, now to the meat and potatoes of the review...

Pros (+)
+ incredible outdoor deck space
+ nice layout
+ very smooth ride, little vibration
+ wonderful public access to the bow area
+ great windows everywhere, perfect for Alaska
+ covered pool for colder days
+ Ocean Bar and the Piano Bar were my two favorite areas

Cons (-)
- décor is somewhat outdated and tired
- no music in the gym
- no elliptical exercise machines in the gym
- too many revenue and non-revenue producing announcements
- the Captain was very nice, but in every announcement he would say "the beautiful and elegant MAASDAM" as if he was trying to convince you of this fact
- exterior needs painting, too much bleeding of paint and rust, plus decaying steel
- the ship was not very clean and could use better maintenance
- no future cruise desk or brochures onboard

The Cabin
Pros (+)
+ wonderful 3-channel radio that was NOT part of the TV
+ great full sized tub
+ nice logo towels, something you don't see much of anymore
+ great location
+ news of the world delivered everyday
+ heating and air conditioning worked extremely well
+ great water pressure
+ comfortable beds
+ paper, pen, postcards in cabin.. very nice touch
+ bathroom was fully tiled

Cons (-)
- old magazines were found under the sofa cushions
- old cookies and vitamins were found in the nightstand drawer
- décor a little outdated
- cheap plastic ice bucket
- dusty cabin upon arrival
- bed cover and blankets need replacing
- no clock in cabin
- telephone wake-up call system was in disrepair during our cruise
- no robes
- no "ship personalities interviews" TV channel like other ships have

Food and Service
Pros (+)
+ excellent quality food
+ excellent variety
+ great presentation
+ wonderful free ice cream
+ talented string quartet in the dining room each evening
+ white cloth covered tables and chairs on formal night looked great!
+ most of the bar staff were wonderful, remembering names and drinks

Cons (-)
- bar service could be slow at times, as some staff seemed preoccupied
- some staff were indifferent - happens on every ship

Activities and Shows
Pros (+)
+ very nice Internet Café and Library
+ $40 for 120 minutes on the Internet
+ special crew show was great fun

Cons (-)
- shows were only average and on a smaller scale then other ships
- other entertainers were ok, nothing special
- most bands appealed to an older crowd
- very little poolside music (probably just in Alaska)
- not enough daytime activities

Pros (+)
+ all fantastic
+ rail and bike tour in Skagway was incredible
+ amazing weather - sunny and 70's everyday

Cons (-)
- tendering was required in Ketchikan, but it was a very efficient operation

Pros (+)
+ escorted to cabin during embarkation (Celebrity also gives champagne)
+ roving chimes by the doorman indicating dinner is being served
+ our bags arrived in the cabin before we did
+ great MAASDAM tile given to Mariners members
+ nice HAL tote to each passenger (Celebrity also does this)
+ funny Dutch hats still given out on Dutch night in the dining room
+ very good embarkation and excellent disembarkation

Cons (-)
- very few tuxes and dresses worn on formal night
- formal night did not seem very formal with some people in t-shirts and jeans
- the famous HAL elevator fold down interior chairs are history

Ships Spotted (for the ship lovers out there)

In closing, it was a relaxing cruise. A bit more sedate then I would prefer, but I blame that more on Alaska cruising then Holland America itself. Would I cruise on Holland America again? Absolutely! They probably would not be my first choice but none the less offer a respectable and sound product.

Ernie Roller