CruiseMates' Readers Cruise Reviews

Holland America Line Maasdam by James Polk Southern Caribbean October 28, 2006

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 ˝ 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 tot 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!

I have read the Maasdam reviews and I will tell you here and now they were done by management. We have been cruising twice a year since 1996. Generally we have traveled on Celebrity and Royal Caribbean ships. This journey on the Holland line and the Maasdam was an experiment. As it turned out, one NEVER to be repeated. This was the worst cruise we ever had without exception. There wasn't a single item or event that we could reference that would sway our opinion. Our cruise was not pleasant nor fun nor comfortable and a very poor overall value. We would never recommend this line or ship to anyone.

Dining The Liddo 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 CAN NOT 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 creams. 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.

Incidentally there was no corned beef hash and people complained, the steam tables and heat lamps used to keep the food warm, did a terrible job! You can't pour your own juices and, although they serve five or six types and guess at what is in those glasses. Even the ice machines in the Liddo Café are so difficult to operate that a bus boy needs to get you the ice. The ice machines use an infra red sensor that only delivers ice if you wave you hand behind the glass to be filled. The "Late Night Liddo Buffets" start at 11:00PM and generally run out of food at 11:25 or so.

Each evening one line of the Liddo Café is closed to the public. That line is reserved for the officers and upper level staff. Apparently they have no food service of their own although a food service, of far lower quality is provided for the lower level staff on the lowest deck. Elitism rides again and at the expense of the passengers.

The 11th floor pool outside the Liddo 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!

Shade should be provided in some form, perhaps a cabana over the whirlpools and part of the pool. Or close the retractable cover partially. They refused to do this. Ventilation is very poor and side windows should installed that can be opened. Incidentally they DID close these pools down on day 10 and 11 for "maintenance. This should be done in Dry Dock. The passengers were not happy campers.

For avid sun worshipers there is another outdoor pool with sitting areas, tables and a bar. There is very little of any shade here.

The Pool hamburger, pizza, and taco bar. The pizza is cold, the taco bar appears filled in the morning and the food seldom refreshed or exchanged any time during the following 10 hours. One day I asked for some French Fries only to be told they were out. I was offered "Taiter Tots". I demanded French Fries since this WAS a hamburger bar but I was told that the cook would have to ask permission of his supervisor. Ten minutes later I did get my French Fries. Is this another cost cutting measure or just more evidence of a stogy and intractable management mentality?

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.

The main "Rotterdam" dining room is an attractive two level hall with a staircase to the upper level. Our wait staff, Peter and Harry were excellent although somewhat forgetful. On the first night, for an appetizer, both my dinner partner and I requested a shrimp cocktail. It was not notable but ok. The breads and rolls served were again dry. Four pads of butter were served. Throughout the cruise we had to request, time and again, a few more pads. We do like coffee before and during our meals and we requested that from our waiter. Sad to say he never could remember to serve coffee as requested. In general the entrees were limited and not at all memorable. The desserts were very sugary, the cakes from Duncan Heinz and the occasional "NEW YORK Cheese Cake" was horrible. We are food judges and days prior to this cruise judged cook-offs for "Red Star Yeast", "The Beef producers of North Carolina", "Pillsbury Piecrusts" (38 entries) and "The North Carolina Egg Producers" (28 Cheese cakes). The cheese cake on the Maasdam was a pathetic! Speaking with the haed waiter who communicated with a chef, who was very defensive and arrogant, and who claimed he made changes, NEVER improved the product. The chef DOES NOT know a cheese cake from and apple and he is supposed to be from Germany!

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.

The Pinnacle Grill boasts its "Silver Award" beef. (Silver… that's second place right?) They also have specialties that include entrees of "Cedar Planked Halibut with Alaskan King Crab" or "Cedar Planked Shrimp Scampi" and various beef fillets. I decided on the large beef fillet and my wife chose the "Cedar Planked Halibut with Alaskan King Crab" only to be told that "They were out of Cedar planks." We could not believe it! When I inquired about the number of patrons they have had in the past days I was told that on day 1 they had 8, day 2 was unknown and day 3 was 18. Well I am sure that this 28 to 40 patrons had not all ordered Cedar planed dishes. I was told that the ship had supply problems at Norfolk, however Holland America has been doing this cruise run for 4 or so years.

Disappointed 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, beople on the shuttle said that the list had been so great that the water in the Liddo 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 alongs 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. Congratulationd to "Daye" for a job well done!

As stated early on, the passenger population appears to have an average of about 68+. This being the case, the Crows Nest musical selections are out of touch with the clientele. The DJ is not sensitive to this fact and plays "the hustle and 80s and 90s rock consistently. She said that is what the people have requested. If so, then why are the passengers not dancing. This demographic grew up in the 40s, 50s, and early 60s. Their music was not the Hustle, not Disco but Rock and Roll.

Also it seems that 5 or 6 of the activities staff are forever present. They arrive early and leave late. Their only function appears to be drinking, flirting and dancing among themselves. This includes the DJ. They sometime try to "teach" dances but the Crows Nest at 10:00PM is not a dance class and once again, they dance among themselves. Dance classes should occur during scheduled afternoon activities so that passengers can practice what they learned later in the evening. I got the perception that each night they were there to entertain themselves while the real crew was working diligently elsewhere on the ship. The actions of these staff people do not look professional and perceptions are realities.

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.

Holland America's automatic daily gratuity deduction is hideous. This is a disgusting policy! Personally I will never follow it but it is a moot point since I will never travel on this line again. If they tell me that if I do not follow their policy, there will be repercussions on the people that have served me best, then for this publication, I say I do not tip more than $1.00 a day.

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