Prior to embarkation: We were picked up by an unusually looooooong limo about 5:15 a.m. for our hour-long trip to the airport. We had made our own flight arrangements, so we had control over departure and layover times. Despite a light rain, our flight and the connecting flight in Atlanta took off on time. We arrived in Ft. Lauderdale at about 11:30, checked that our luggage went to the ship instead of the carousel, and jumped in a cab. Ten minutes later we were at the pier and had our first glimpse of the Maasdam.
Embarkation: We were in line about two minutes, got our boarding number (15) and went inside the terminal. While we waited we had a chance to talk to some other passengers and share some of our secrets. Steiner had a table set up with literature on their services, and we had time to talk to the reps and arrange appointments. Our number was called about 1:15 and we were escorted to our cabin, where we found half of our luggage had already been delivered. We grabbed the excursion list and headed to the Lido with our friends for the Embarkation Luncheon.
Cabin: Our outside deluxe cabin, category D-581, on the Main deck, amidships, was large and very comfortable. We had the two twin beds set up as a queen with a small nightstand on either side and window over the beds, and the sleeping area was set aside by a decorative curtain. The sofa, chair and adjustable coffee table made a nice sitting area, and the mirror, dressing table, closets and drawers were very generous. Although there was plenty of closet space, we stored the luggage under the beds. The bathroom was large enough for two :-) but we were very disappointed in the storage space. There was no cabinet or shelf under the sink; only one narrow shelf under the mirror which was not enough for the stuff two people need in the bathroom. The bathtub was also a shower with a shower wand that was adjustable in height to accommodate children or ladies who don't want to get their hair wet. Air conditioning was fully adjustable and we could hear nothing from the hall or adjacent cabins.
Ship facilities: The ship is very clean and well-maintained. All public rooms are easily accessible, and beautifully decorated with fine art and fresh flowers. The Lower Promenade offers a wraparound deck for you purists ;-)
Pools: Both pools were spacious and easy to access. The Lido pool and jacuzzis, having tables under roof, was more a place for lounging, eating and visiting, whereas the aft pool (Nav deck) was more for hard-core sunworshippers like me. The only games I saw were at the aft pool.
Spa: Steiner of London maintains the ultimate ocean spa for facial and body therapy. They offer hair and nail rituals, facials, massages, seaweed heat packs, shiatsu, reflexology, reiki healing, aromatherapy, full body exfoliating and my new favorite... Ionithermie anti-cellulite treatment. Fitness rituals include personal training sessions, body composition analysis and Yoga. Enjoy a view of the ocean at the fitness center (no charge for exercise machines, steam and sauna).
Movies: The Wajang Theater (popcorn and Cappuccino available next door at the Java Cafe) showed "Pay it Forward", "Lucky Numbers", "Meet the Parents", "The Sixth Day" and "Space Cowboys". Funny odor in there, though.
Dining Room : The Rotterdam Dining Room is a spacious and attractive bi-level room, offering a variety of seating arrangements. A variety of menus was available; the food was very good, and the main seating service in the non-smoking section was excellent.
Buffet: Lido Restaurant served meals cafeteria-style, which is not as elegant as your classic buffets, but the variety and quality of the food makes up for it. The line was broken up a bit into different sections for the traditional meal and the specialty entrees and desserts. There is so much food on the buffet, you'll certainly find something you like. Since they no longer provide a menu for this buffet, I walked ahead and peeked at the food (they even had prime ribs one day, which was excellent for a buffet item) before I started loading up.
Room Service: We didn't use it this time for either a meal or a snack. We always use the doorknob card you fill out at night that will get you coffee, juices, fruit, yogurt, pastries, eggs, meats or cereals any time from 6:30 to 10:30 the following morning. That gives you time to make yourself presentable for the "real" breakfast in the dining room or Lido.
Rembrandt Lounge Showroom: Seating is more than adequate, with a good view for everyone, even in the balcony. Here there are a few obstructed views, but nothing bad. Overall, the entertainment was quite varied and professional.
Shops: New on this ship was the Ten-Dollar Store, offering a variety of jewelry, writing instruments, sunglasses, watches and pashminas. There was also one for clothing and souvenirs, one for jewelry and perfumes/cosmetics and a duty-free shop offering liquor (they even had a tasting table). Daily specials such as rings, watches, gold and silver by the inch and leather goods were listed in the Daily Program. All were adequately stocked and offered good values.
Casino: This one is rather small by comparison to others on ships this size, but it was never crowded. The only crap table was not only uncrowded (they usually are) but one night it was even closed for lack of interest.
Excursions: In your cabin you will find a Planning/Order Form indicating the details of the available excursions. Warning 1: Some of these have very limited space and sell out very fast and are assigned on a first-come, first-served basis. If there is a trip you absolutely must take, sign up now! You can order it right away by filling out this form and placing it in the drop box at the excursion desk. Warning 2: If you want to go with someone in another cabin, put the request for all tickets on one cabin's order. We split our order and only two of us got to do the Swimming with the Dolphins :-( You can take another form to be filled out later for other requests. A Shore Excursion video played continuously on the stateroom TV regarding available port activities. There were about 40 shore excursions on the list (not including the beach toys available at Half Moon Cay)... plenty from which to choose. American currency is welcome everywhere. Take small bills and change.
Nassau: This was a short stop from 7 a.m. to noon, and nine excursions were offered. We did stop at the straw market where even Jim bought a few things! I have the photo to prove it!
San Juan: This was the longest stop of the cruise, from 9 a.m. to Midnight. There were ten excursions offered, but we chose to visit El Morro on our own. This is a short cab ride from the dock, meandering through Old San Juan to the other side of the island. This is a gorgeous old fort with many levels offering breathtaking views. I was impressed with the series of aerial maps showing the development of the island over the last few hundred years.
St. John/St. Thomas: We stopped here from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., which is plenty of time to do one or two of the twenty excursions that were offered. We chose the helicopter tour (put the order on one ticket this time). We were in the air for about 20 minutes and had the absolute best views of some of the most beautiful beaches as well as areas that have yet to be rebuilt due to hurricane damage. We also went to the top of the Paradise Point Tramway ($12 each) which also afforded great views of the ships in the harbor and downtown Charlotte Amalie. You can stop and relax with a refreshing snack and watch the tropical bird show. We had been there before, but needed to buy a mate for our Wild Man (who turned out to be a Wild Woman, but that's another story...). Sure enough, in the same store, on the same shelf, was a whole family of Wild Ones.
Half Moon Cay: We tendered to this pristine island about 8 a.m. and stayed until they dragged me out of the ocean (kicking and screaming) at 3 p.m. Although there is a gift shop and small straw market , they're only a convenience. Don't expect what you saw in Nassau. Here you can enjoy a frozen tropical drink at one of the bars, have some refreshing ice cream or have your hair braided. The tram will take you up to the Island Picnic, which is served from 11:30 to 1:30 and is simple but delicious. On the beach, you can enjoy snorkeling, SCUBA, parasailing, banana boat rides, catamarans, sailboats, windsurfing, aqua cycles, glass bottom boat, golf chipping or kayaking. We simply rented floating mattresses and floated for a couple of hours. Paradise. Great tan. If you'd rather sit on the beach, lounge chairs are available and you can sip a cool one served by a beach steward. On the sports courts, you'll find shuffleboard and volleyball, and closer to the beach there are tents set up for private beachside massages. As you wander this little island there are misting stations you can step into for a refreshing shower.
Ship Activities: Each day we received a Daily Program listing all planned activities, meals, movies, etc. This is most helpful when there is so much to do! The Times Fax (from the pages of The New York Times) and CNN brought us up to date on the real world. Production shows, bingo (although pricey), horse racing, volleyball, ping-pong, water games, newlywed game, ice sculpting demos, golf or ping-pong tournaments, dance lessons, gambling, dancing, even daily AA meetings are available to fill your time.
Staff: We were fortunate to have Susan Wood as our Cruise Director. Susan began her career at sea as a dance instructor (which might explain her energy level). She now has the distinction of being the first female Cruise Director in the HAL fleet. She is energetic and very outgoing; knowledgeable, organized, personable and accessible. It seems she was everywhere (except on debarkation day, when I really needed a photo for this review). Susan will be moving to the m.s. Amsterdam in September, 2001.
Toto, our cabin steward, was very good. He brought us breakfast each morning, filled the ice bucket and kept our cabin neat and clean all day.
Hasan, our Rotterdam Dining Room waiter, and Agung, his assistant, were attentive and handled our special requests cheerfully. This is the first time a Dining Room Supervisor (Yusuf) was so attentive. His funny jokes made our dining experience special. Didiet, our wine steward was prompt and his suggestions most helpful.
Passengers: Average age looked to be about 45-50. If there were any children aboard, they were invisible.
Motion: We were lucky to have calm seas all week. The stabilizers made the entire trip smooth and comfortable. The slightly perceptible motion was just enough to rock you to sleep at night.
Disembarkation: Non-U.S. Citizens were required to report to Immigration very early, but we were able to have coffee and pastries in our cabin, then go to the lounge to check in at the airline. Delta and U.S. Air have representatives onboard to check your passports (all travelers in your group must be present) and issue you bar-coded luggage tags in a sealed envelope. We were in this line over an hour, and it was very frustrating. They should have had more airline reps for this to work smoothly. We were off the ship at about 9:00, found our luggage in the "warehouse" (the colored tag system moves passengers in shifts to avoid crowding), had a redcap cart them to the Delta truck where the bar-coded tags were attached to our bags, got in a cab and were at the airport in record time; two hours ahead of flight time. Note: when you debark and find your luggage, you can transfer most of your overnight stuff to your luggage so you won't have to carry so much.
I'm sure I don't need to tell you this was the best cruise ever. We will be HAL cruisers for many more years to come.