Holland America Line - Cruisemates Reader's Cruise Reviews

Holland America Line

Maasdam
by Julian & Sheila Davies
Eastern Caribbean
September 8, 2002

Review: GOOD THINGS about this cruise- just about everything!!

I'm more into music than food, so if you need culinary details please read a different review.

BAD THINGS about this cruise (let's get this over and done with)-

1. While the ship was in port on September 11 at San Juan, I stood on the sports deck at about 9 p.m. and looked down at the gangway at the people coming back to the on board. With one gangway for both passengers and crew, manned by two officers, I noticed a marked difference between the security procedures used for passengers and those used for crew. Each passenger was required to show his ship I.D. card and a separate picture I.D., such as a driver's license or a passport. The officers made a big show of physically taking the I.D. cards and checking the picture against the passenger's face. By contrast, crew members walked fast up to the gangway holding out their I.D.s, often in groups of two or three and were casually waved on the by crewmember and officer on duty.

At the time I thought this system seemed a little casual, but later, thinking about it, I became quite angry. Unless there's a separate system onboard for all the crewmembers to be processed, which I doubt, there's no way that the officers on duty would know every other crewmember's face, with more than 500 crew on board and some of them leaving or starting out every week. This didn't look like a true security operation. When gun-wielding maniacs attack companies in the United States, the damage is done not by customers (passengers) but by disgruntled employees (crew). We think this is one of the few areas where Holland America needs improvement.

2. Port Everglades Embarkation- the process was easy, but it's not a good idea for the clerk to pretend seriously that our names were not registered for cabin 738 and to make up another couple's names as being in there. We laughed it off, but with all the screw-ups that can and do happen it was no time for practical jokes and another couple might have been very nervous or deeply offended. He's probably still doing this for each cruise, thinking how cute he is.

3. Port Everglades Disembarkation. Very slick at getting us briskly off the ship, but they wouldn't let anybody sit in the air-conditioned hall and we all had to stand outside with the fumes and the noise from buses and cabs and the shouting of deputies directing traffic. Quite a lot of elderly passengers were outside with not as much as a bench to sit on. Not providing seats in the air-conditioned hall for people waiting for connections or rides means Holland America leaves a very bad last impression after the crew busted their humps to give us a great vacation.

OVERALL
We had cruised once before on Celebrity's Century in 2000 and had a terrific time. We were tempted to take that cruise again but decided on the Maasdam for purposes of comparison. Our conclusion- we would happily go on either line again- they're both class acts with much in common but with a few interesting differences. While we felt the food was a little better on Celebrity, we prefer the traditional decoration of the Maasdam and the smaller size of the ship. Everybody on the Century did a superb job, but we got the impression that the Maasdam crew enjoyed their lives on board more. Several of the Indonesian waiters and bar staff quickly learned our names and service was prompt and accurate. Shore excursion and front desk personnel did just fine and we were impressed that on the final morning the Captain himself was in the hallway helping to direct passengers.

FOOD
Food was plentiful and tasty, with one or two slight disappointments. The lobster on the last formal night was not the same quality as the Beef Wellington, but the Baked Alaska was great. We enjoyed the wide choice in the Lido buffet with fresh fruit for every breakfast and lunch. I particularly enjoyed having a lot of smoked salmon for breakfast, and the French Toast was outstanding.

Our waiters in the Rotterdam dining room worked swiftly and precisely and never messed up an order. As far as the "tipping not required" policy we actually tipped as much as we would have on another line and a little more for the bar staff and Henke.

Henke is one of Holland America's best ambassadors. He's probably about 21 years old, he stands at the beginning of the buffet line handing out trays and silverware, "glued to the floor" as he says. But he talks to every passenger and makes them feel welcome and comfortable, and by the first day he had a lot of names memorized. On the last day he said he would be going home for a break soon. I asked him what he would do at home. He responded, "Sleep like a polar bear".

ENTERTAINMENT
John Challenger, the Cruise Director, was capable, experienced and very funny. He could do his own stand-up comedy show.

Edge the juggler combined excellent juggling and humor. We met him briefly and he was very friendly.

Dwayne Cunningham, the comedian, had us crying with laughter more than once. And you can take your children to his show; in fact he likes to talk with the kids in the audience.

Greg Frewin, the magician, is one of the best in the world. He gave us a spectacular show with doves and parrots and sawing the girl in two one evening and the next afternoon a smaller show with some clever card tricks. Extremely professional. One very small suggestion, Greg. You could use a little better material in dealing with hecklers than just saying "This is my show, Sir. I'll make the jokes." You need to embarrass them more than that.

The Maasdam Cast are hard working boy and girl dancers and singers. We skipped one show, but the second show, "Party Gras" featured amazing costumes. Their girl singer, I think her name was Christa, was a real pleasure to listen to. The three male dancers were in three sizes- muscle builder, medium and skinny. The choreographer did a good job of keeping medium in the middle so you wouldn't see muscles next to thin. The girl dancers were all visions of beauty.

The piano bar. We spent five nights there singing along with the very capable Ted Connors, who knows a million songs, how to keep the party going and also features each singer and runs a "name that tune" contest.

The Rockin' Rolldies Show. A passenger talent show for which the passengers don't actually need any talent. Famous hits are played such as "Splish Splash", "Where The Boys Are" and "Tiptoe Through the Tulips", and passengers dress up in costumes and lip-sync while funny antics occur around them. As I watched I became aware that a lot of the people on stage were the staff of the ship and also the Maasdam dancers. Having seen some really lame talent shows in the past I can understand why the cruise lines have kicked it up a notch. It must be pretty much the same show every week, with different passengers in the same costumes. The Diana Ross take-off was so funny the entire audience was in tears of laughter, but it featured two of the ship's staff and one passenger who, again, basically didn't need much talent- he just had to look good in a sequined sheath dress and a feather boa.
by the way, FYI, there is no band for the shows in the Rembrandt Theater, just recorded music. When we cruised on the Celebrity Century a seven-piece band played along with recorded music for the shows. I love good live music, but for shows, with today's sound systems, I think you may as well just have recorded music. The band doesn't really have much reason to be there.

We did have a passenger talent show with Open Mic night, when Ted Connors once again ably accompanied passengers as they sang in a more formal setting, with a bigger audience than in the piano bar.

The Indonesian crew show. Wonderful. Very sincere. A real band on stage. Varied, with a lot of fun and some spectacular ethnic costumes and music. Don't miss it.

We also enjoyed the Newly Wed/ Not So Newly Wed Game, the Match Game and the Liar's Club, held conveniently before the main shows.

by the way, the Rembrandt Showroom has the look of an elegantly decorated living room. Instead of rows of seats, the lower deck has chairs and couches scattered around. On the Century, the waiters asked every passenger for their drink order, but on the Maasdam they stand around so you can get a drink if you want one, but you don't feel pressured to run up your bar bill.

THE BANDS

"Pantastic." Caribbean sounding steel drums, bass and drums, mercifully free of vocals. Perfect for poolside music.

"The Moonlighters." Swing and standards. Piano, bass and drums with the bass player singing well. Immaculate mainstream jazz piano. People dancing, chatting after dinner or just listening. Very nice.

"Champagne strings." I heard they were from Hungary. Violin, piano and a bass player who would pick up a clarinet and play American hits with a gypsy flair and a huge vibrato. The violinist was a real pleasure. The piano player was young and played very well but he had an angular style and I got the impression he would have been happier playing bebop.

"The Station Band." Didn't hear much of them as they were at the Crow's Nest while we were at the piano bar. What I did hear was some good, very high singing from their guitarist. Kind of like Smokey Robinson only more in tune.


SHORE EXCURSIONS

Nassau: The Dolphin Encounter. Pricey, but worth it. Well organized. A really refreshing boat ride to the Blue Lagoon. Fabulous visit with Stormy the bottle-nosed dolphin. The encounter begins with a brief, entertaining yet very informative talk covering all the dolphin basics. Each visitor gets to kiss, hug, dance with, stroke, feed and even feel the teeth of the dolphin. There is no way you cannot enjoy this morning and it's a great way to use the few hours the ship stops at Nassau.

Puerto Rico: An interesting 45 minute bus ride through San Juan and out into the foothills of the rain forest, with a good narration in English from the driver. Then a two-hour horse ride, including an optional swim in a river. There were about 35 riders and 4 or 5 safety conscious guides. My horse, Bambino, had two speeds; crawl or flat-out-gallop-and-try-to-throw-me-off. My wife's horse had one speed; crawl. It was hot but a really different experience for us Florida flatland dwellers.

St. Thomas: No excursion, but we took the ski lift to the top of the hill and enjoyed the fabulous view over the islands, the Maasdam and the Norway, which was anchored out. We saw a funny bird show up there and did a little souvenir shopping.

Half Moon Cay. Lazed on the beach, enjoyed hamburgers, walked through the superfine sand and swam in the fantastically blue water among the little tiny fishes. What a place! Pretty close to Paradise.

SEPTEMBER 11
The added security for September 11 in Puerto Rico involved every passenger reporting to customs with their passport open at the picture. Naturally some passengers failed to follow the repeated announcements or deliberately ignored them, and we were all late getting off the ship. With all respect for the victims of the terrorist attack we felt we wanted to be away from the media coverage that day, and horse riding in the hills seemed like a good way to do it. By chance, a single lady from New Jersey was assigned to our dining table on the ship. She had been on many cruises with her sister. Last year, her sister died in one of the WTC towers when it was attacked, so our dinner companion decided to take this cruise by herself. She also went riding with us on September 11 and while we didn't talk about it, we couldn't help wondering what feelings she must have been experiencing as we all trudged through the foothills on our horses.

THINGS I LIKE TO DO ON A CRUISE

Roam around and find every public room and every deck. On the Maasdam you can go right to the bow of the ship where the ship's bell hangs. Careful, though, if you do that everyone can see you on the ship channel in their cabins.

Talk to strangers. It's so much easier to strike up conversations when everyone's relaxed and friendly. The Maasdam passengers mostly seemed very pleasant and the word "civilized" kept coming into my head.

Go up to the sports deck at night when at sea. Careful you don't get blown overboard. The one night my wife and I ventured up there it was almost completely dark, and the stars were clearer than we ever see them at home. I swear I could see the Milky Way as a thick belt of stars and it gave us a real perspective on how tiny our planet is.

As I said, we lived in the piano bar. The final night was Ted's night off and I played instead, leading the group in renditions of such hits as "New York, New York" "Killing me Softly" and my own favorite, "Help me Make It Through the Night".
This meant we didn't get back to the cabin until 12.45 and the suitcases had to be packed and out in the hallway by 2 AM. Somehow Sheila got it taken care of and we awoke at 7 the next morning to cruel, hard reality.

COMPLAINTS

I heard people complaining to each other once or twice during the week. Here are a few examples:
-The ice cream bar had no hot fudge for an ice cream sundae.
-The cabin attendant didn't leave towel animals on the bed.
-Holland America did not supply constant background music everywhere.

CABIN ATTENDANT
His name is Erwan. He introduced himself the first day and then stayed out of our way, but he always seemed to be in the area the few times we needed something and his English was very good. The cabin was cleaned immaculately twice a day. He well deserved the decent tip we gave him.

The Maasdam is not a brand new ship and there were small cracks in our bathroom sink and chips in the cabin counter, but it wasn't a big deal to us. You're only there a week, not a lifetime. Holland America has refurbished the public rooms and they all look perfectly beautiful. The dark woods and the Dutch tiles and the fresh flowers are fantastic. The sound systems are state of the art. The Yamaha grand pianos are perfectly in tune. This is a cruise line that quietly plays Beethoven during your breakfast at the buffet! I mean how could it get any classier?

FINALLY, IN CONCLUSION, LAST THOUGHTS
As usual, I've run on longer than I intended. A cruise like this only lasts a week, but it enriches your life for much longer than that. You can be stressed out with stacks of work and think back to wading into the azure water on Half Moon Cay. You can be the seventh car in line at the drive up window of McDonald's and reach out in your mind to the Texas BarBQ on the Lido deck with scrummy ribs, sausage and potato salad. You can be watching a rerun of "Love Boat" and recall looking up at the starry night from Sports Deck with your honey.

I have a theory that many times the people who have complaints about a cruise already have plenty of everything and have easy access to luxury. Those of us who can rarely afford service at this level, who do our own yard work, fix our own dinners and wash our own cars, probably appreciate a cruise more.

Over the years, cruising has become a very competitive business. The major conglomerates have outdone each other in trying to provide the best experience in accommodation, food, entertainment and excursions, while prices have remained affordable. For the most part, any line not offering a first rate experience has gone bankrupt, as have some who did offer it (for instance, Renaissance Cruises). by doing the same things week after week for years, adding to the activities and refining them, the cruise lines can now offer an incredible product. We the public are the lucky winners in this. We were very happy with the Maasdam and very impressed by Holland America.