I'm a 40ish male software developer, and I was traveling solo. I had been on two prior cruises, both with Carnival. My Maasdam cruise sailed from Norfolk.
I got in a long line outside Norfolk's Nauticus terminal at 11:30 a.m. 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. It was announced at 1:00 p.m. that the cabins were ready.
I went to my 'C' category cabin at 1:30 p.m. There are only six 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 six windows right before where the verandahs start. 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. It was a nice cabin, very clean, with great beds and 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 all there. The outside of my (expensive) window was 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.
Captain van der Loo can frequently be heard referring to "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, and there are fresh flowers everywhere, as well as 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.
Rotterdam Dining Room: 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. Kudos to maitre d' Tri for his instincts. We were usually the last table to leave 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 – six courses, and a different wine with each course. The charge was $49.99. The restaurant has beautiful Bulgari 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, and 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, including a very nice fruit selection. I lunched in the Lido a couple of times when the menu was better than the one in the Rotterdam. There was a wide selection that varied every day, and a good salad bar. I was impressed with the live orchids on the tables. There was usually a staff member present at the iced tea and coffee area to pour your beverage. There were lots of sumptuous dessert selections (which I avoided) including an excellent bread pudding (I had just a taste).
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.
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 are constantly in a good mood. They are professionals who are an asset to HAL.
I had three experiences with the front desk. One was exceptionally good, one not so good and one very bad. On the first formal night, I called around 11:30 a.m. to see if there was somewhere on the ship I could purchase a boutonnière. I was told ‘no.' At 2:30 p.m., 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 ship's late arrival back in Norfolk and my 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 I completed an updated disembarkation/immigration form, but American was having difficulty getting an email to the ship.
Two of my dinner companions were driving home and received the hotel vouchers without question. Why it was such a problem for me I do not know. JoAnn insisted I had to pay for it myself and then get reimbursed. I already had to pay the $100 airline 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.
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 with very strong rum punch (self-served and unlimited.) and excellent steel drum music. There was dancing, line dancing and a limbo contest. No one was forced to participate. We cruised around the bay gawking at the mega-yachts, then stopped for an hour 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 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. Maarten was the 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 Los Hermosa Resort, on a 73-foot, twin-mast 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 were cooked onboard. I'd highly recommend their tour. There were eight 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. There's pretty architecture reminiscent of the French Quarter in New Orleans, only painted up in pastels.
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.
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 yodeler on the planet. I thoroughly enjoyed the Champagne Strings in the Explorers Lounge every night after dinner. The Indonesian crew show was the best.
There was one plumbing mishap I was aware of. The first night at around 11 p.m., I stopped back at my cabin and found a note saying the water would be off the next day from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. 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.
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. It was more tolerable when we were farther 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).
We had mild seas with gentle rocking until the last night, when we encountered 30-foot seas and gale force winds. This created 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.
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 two 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.
As I was staying overnight in Norfolk, I was in the final group, #32. We were called about 7:15 p.m. 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. I had dinner at Jillian's with Kay and Joe from our table -- good wings, onion rings and a pitcher of beer along with very dry burgers.
Will I ever sail HAL again? Possibly. There were so many good things about this cruise. Things happen, and it's not the problem itself, 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.