Some things are planned well in advance and the anticipation of finally doing what was planned just adds to the excitement. Other times, things are done on relatively short notice and the often turn out better than you thought they would. In our case what we had planned on fell through forcing us to radically change our plans. So we made a quick decision to take a cruise on the Ryndam. It was a good decision.
Why did I choose the Ryndam? I have definite likes and dislikes, as much about cruises as about anything. I find that certain cruise lines do things that I like better than others. Some cruise lines seem to make cruising something special, that forgo a certain appeal to the masses and that offer a bit more refinement. I also know that I like smaller ships better than larger, less passengers better than more, a warm and gracious crew versus impersonal, and a more refined atmosphere rather than one that is rowdy or boisterous. I much prefer a teak promenade to a rock-climbing wall. I also like the feeling of being on a ship at sea, rather than on a floating hotel. These are all personal preferences, but for me, they do make a difference. So far I seem to find more of these things on HAL then other lines I have sailed. This, along with the western itinerary she traveled was my basis for choosing the Ryndam.
The Ryndam is one of four sisters, the others being the Statendam, Maasdam and Veendam. As regards interior layout they are all identical in every way. Sail on one and you will have no trouble negotiating any others of the class. For first timers there are plenty of signs in the elevator lobbies and the ships are not so huge as to get lost. In the HAL way of doing things, many of the public rooms have the same names on all of their ships. There is always an Ocean Bar and there is always a crow's nest. This immediately gives the repeat cruiser a sense of familiarity no matter what ship you sail on in the line.
Our cruise departed on Saturday, February 5, 2000. In order to eliminate the stress of same day travel my wife and I arrived in Florida three days early. This gave us the opportunity to relax, unwind, visit with family and meet some friends whom we had never met before. Friends that we have known for years via cruise chat rooms. First to be met were Kukimoose, Billtravel and Robocop. We had a wonderful dinner at Ruth's Chris Steakhouse in Coral Gables, thanks Kuki! The next day we met Mama Chubs who was disembarking from the Volendam. After picking up Mama and her hubby at the pier we proceeded to the Marriott Marina Hotel and met with Simari1401. We had a few hours together, had lunch, and then we took Mama to the airport. Our excitement built, as we knew the next day we would be boarding our ship. Finally being able to meet these long time Internet and AOL friends was a highlight of our trip. Hopefully we will all be able to cruise together sometime in the future.
The next day we checked out of our hotel, dropped off our car and checked in at the pier. Arriving very early we had about an hour wait and then we boarded. Looking over our fellow cruisers we observed a fairly typical HAL crowd of seniors. However, mixed amongst them were a surprisingly large number, for HAL at least, of younger couples and some singles. A number of babies, small children, and preteens were also seen, which also surprised us, given the time of year we were traveling. One of the cruisers we met while waiting was a mid 40's fellow named David. He was traveling alone and he said friends and family had convinced him to join them on this cruise and so here he was. He was full of questions about the cruise, the ship and what he would do onboard. We had a pleasant chat and all week, whenever we saw David, he had a smile on his face. I asked him several times how he liked cruising and he said it was great and that he would do it again. Maybe next time he would try a ship with a younger crowd, but I am sure that a new cruise addict has been born!
The Ryndam is now five years old, having entered service in 1994. She is in remarkably good condition for five years and does not show her age. Some wear was noted on the lido deck floor covering which is now wearing thin, and some tables and chairs in various areas that have lost some of their luster and show scratches. But overall, the ship is in great condition. HAL has always made maintenance and upkeep a priority and I was happy to find that this is still true. Virtually no rust is visible anywhere on the hull or exterior fittings. The warm brown teak decking has now changed to a weathered gray color from exposure but the wood itself is in fine condition.
Boarding the ship was hassle free. HAL continues the wonderful tradition of meeting, greeting and escorting passengers to their cabins. Since we were on main deck and immediately down the hall from the entrance we simply walked to our outside cabin, #597. This was an excellent location, amidships on the starboard side. Our room was decorated almost identically to that of our earlier cruise on the Veendam in peach tones and chintz fabrics. It was spotlessly clean and the twin beds had already been converted to a queen. The bathroom was tidy, well arranged and again spotless. The bathroom would benefit from having a toiletries cabinet, as only a shelf is provided and it is unable to accommodate the normal storage needs of two people. An under-sink shelf is also lacking, and this would be another worthwhile addition.
Following our normal post-boarding pattern, we spent a few minutes in the cabin and then headed out to explore the ship. Heading past the boarding area on deck five and up an escalator you arrive in the lowermost area of the three-story atrium. The overwhelming object that is seen is the base and lower part of a large fountain sculpture, totally oversized and dominating considering the size of the atrium itself. On either side are doors that lead to the promenade. Those expecting an atrium like those of other ships will be disappointed. The atrium on this ship is simply a means to connect decks and lacks the people watching and sitting areas of other ships. The atrium is not a destination, such as the Centrums of Royal Caribbean. However, it does provide a central crossroads for access to many of the public areas on Promenade and Upper Promenade decks.
The interior decor on the Ryndam is far different than that of the Veendam, which we found we preferred. As is the case with the other "S" class ships the decor in most of the ship is soft and soothing. Nothing is glaring or shocking to the eyes. The overall affect is pleasing. However some decorating schemes we did not like at all. The main dislike is the Crow's Nest. Done with a theme of ice and glaciers the floor and walls feature crackle glass panels and colors in shades of blues. The crackle glass wall panels have neon behind them. The ceiling features tubes of white glass in varying lengths to simulate icicles. Behind this is neon tubing in various shades. The neon colors changed in a subtle fashion and suggested the aurora borealis. Later in the evening the room is converted from a lounge to a disco and the neon is pulsed in rhythm to the music. The effect can be very disconcerting and several passengers said it made them a bit uneasy. Especially on the one night when some motion could be felt on the ship.
The other decor I did not care for as much was the Ocean Bar. This had to do with the colors of the room, which were cool blues, off-white chairs and gold tones. These made the room not as warm or inviting as on the Veendam. There also was the glare of mini-spot lights used to illuminate the atrium fountain. While not visible from all areas of the room they were noticeable to me, maybe because I wear glasses. The simple addition of more greenery or a solid partition to screen out this glare would eliminate the problem.
The furniture, fixtures and fittings have held up well and most do not show any significant wear. Except for my comments above I thought the color schemes and interior decor themes have held up well and it still seems fresh.
That night we were introduced to our second seating, dining companions. Our group changed as one couple switched to 1st seating. A couple from the Canadian Rockies, Glenda and Brian, who were 1st time cruisers replaced them. As finally configured our table also included Ruth and Lance who were in there late 30's and taking their first cruise. Lance owns a catering business and all week he was very helpful in deciphering the menu selections. Ruth works as a university student affairs administrator. Joann was traveling with her companion Jo. Joann was celebrating her 90th birthday during this cruise. It was humbling to be sitting next to someone who had lived through almost all of the 20th century. Joann told us some very interesting stories and was a veteran cruiser. Everyone at our table made it a point to rotate seats and positions during the week, which helped to make for interesting conversation each night. I was very interested in hearing about how our first time cruisers enjoyed their cruise as the week went on.
The onboard HAL experience is far more subdued than on other ships I have sailed. A variety of deck games, organized and do it yourself, dance classes, craft classes and such are presented along with the ever-present Bingo game. A steel drum band provides music around the pools at varying times during the day, but I continually longed for a reggae band. The steel band, while OK, just doesn't carry a tune like other bands and the hours they played were rather limited. Taped music was played at the Lido pool. While this made for easy conversation and napping, a bit more lively music would have been appreciated. While most passengers seemed to like the laid back atmosphere, some said it was a bit too subdued for them. If you are looking for a wide range and variety of activities this is not the ship to find them on. Our friend David said he would liked to have found some singles his age and he thought his next cruise would be on a ship more suitable to his single status. On the other hand 1st timers Ruth and Lance said that they liked the relaxed and subdued atmosphere. They said that they both lead very busy and hectic lives and the atmosphere was perfect for unwinding and getting back to knowing each other.
There are two main production shows and I attended both. Each was found to be fairly standard cruise fare. The first is a show called Copacabana and is a musical story woven around the Barry Manilow song of the same name. In fact Barry Manilow wrote the show. The costumes were by Bob Mackie and were gorgeous. The storyline is paper-thin and is really an excuse to do some lively singing and dancing. The dancing was good but the lead female singer was not really up to the job. The second show involved a review of songs from the 50's and 60's. An amazing 70 songs, or should I say, parts of songs are presented in a brisk 50 minutes. However, with so many songs being sung in snippets they eventually seemed to blend into each other. I kept longing to hear at least a few songs from beginning to end. A comedy magician act was OK, but nothing special. I also attended the crew show, which alternatives between Philippine and Indonesian. Ours was the Indonesian show. This show packed the house, even though it is presented at 11:15pm. Everyone, including myself, enjoyed the show. It is a marvel that these hard working crewmen can find the time to rehearse and present such a show. They truly seem to enjoy themselves and we passengers warmly received their performance. Bravo! Also on board, but not attended were a juggling act.
For many people the dining experience on board is a highlight of any cruise, everyone becomes a food critic and has there own ideas about what makes for a good meal. Evaluating the dining experience is so subjective that it makes me hesitate. I am not a gourmand and make no pretense of being one. For me the food was more than acceptable in all areas and I was always able to find an appetizer, soup, main course and desert that filled the bill. A low calorie entree and a vegetarian dish were always on the menu. And if nothing else was appealing a grilled chicken breast or a grilled salmon steak was always available. The food is not highly seasoned, which suits me just fine, but left others wishing for a bit more zing. A wide variety is presented at the Lido Buffet, which has it's own menu each day. I felt the dining room meals were superior in quality and presentation to those experienced on the Veendam in 96. We ate all of our breakfasts and lunches while onboard in the Lido buffet or at the Lido poolside. Room service was excellent; our breakfasts were delivered exactly at the time requested. Surprisingly, an omelet could be ordered from room service, but is not to be found at the Lido buffet. My wife commented that the rich red decor of the Veendam dining room was prettier than that on the Ryndam.
Our dining room waiter seemed to be missing in action for much of the meal. He would greet us, present the menus, take our meal order and not be seen again until the meals were served. Often the headwaiter would come over, serve the meals, de-bone the Dover sole or remove the lobster meat from the tail. I often had a hard time getting a refill of iced tea from our busboy. It also took until late in the week before the busboy remembered that my wife and I drank hot tea. I believe that our table created the problem for him by sitting at different spots around the table each night. The wine steward was efficient and promptly delivered our bar orders.
A quick review of the ports of call. Half Moon Cay is HAL's private island. It is the nicest private island I have been too. A full day is spent at this island. Unfortunately it was rather cool and windy when we were there, swimming was impossible. However I was able to enjoy a nice nap, swinging in a hammock right on the beach. I could have stayed there forever. Grand Cayman is a special place for us as we honeymooned there in 1974. We were returning for the third time since our honeymoon and I must admit that the island has lost much of the charm it had for us as honeymooners. The level of construction, the large crowds from the cruise ships and the traffic in the downtown area have turned our little, sleepy, slice of heaven into another overrun island. However, it still has a beautiful strip of sand in Seven Mile Beach, the water is still wondrously clear and clean, and the island is very safe. I don't know if we will return again. Cozumel has changed significantly since our last visit in 1993. In fact much of the area around San Miguel was unrecognizable it has changed so much. This change has been caused by the damage of hurricanes and by the quickening pace of tourism on the island. We enjoyed a great afternoon of swimming, snorkeling and sunning on a Fury Catamaran excursion. After dinner that evening we returned to town for some lively shopping. A sleepy village San Miguel certainly is not! Our last stop was at Key West, and I found it to be both fascinating and very honky tonk. It certainly is unique but overall I thought it was only so, so as a port of call.
Summing up these are my likes:
First and foremost the service. The crew is warm, friendly and they really go out of their way to please you. You are always greeted with a smile and often your name! Visit the same lounge a few times and you will be greeted as an old friend. They will know your name, room number and your favorite drink. Our room steward was as equally competent.
Flowers, flowers everywhere. A HAL trademark, the extensive use of fresh flowers makes everything so colorful. According to the manager responsible, $3,000 to $5,000 is spent each week on fresh flowers and it certainly shows.
The lack of crowds and lines. The ship is spacious and never feels crowded in any area. The ship carries 1266 with 2 to a room and we had 1200 on our sailing. This lack of crowding makes the whole shipboard experience so much nicer.
Ordering shore excursions was totally hassle free. Simply fill out a form, drop it in a box and your tickets are delivered to your room.
Having a heated, fresh water swimming pool to enjoy. On our first two days it was a bit cool but with a heated pool and a magrodome over it, we were still able to enjoy swimming, the hot tubs and lounging.
Half Moon Cay. This is simply the best private island we have been too. It has a gorgeous stretch of white sand, some native shopping, clean rest rooms, a wedding chapel and a real post office! HAL has created a little piece of paradise here. When the palm trees and other plants mature it will be picture perfect.
Tropical Night - While in Cozumel the lido pool area is turned into an outdoor dining area, complete with white linen table clothes and place settings. Balloons, straw mats around columns and other decorations, along with the steel band add a tropical flavor while everyone enjoys a barbecue meal of chicken, baby back ribs, steak, corn and all the fixings to go with it. Well done!
The second formal night. For dinner the Rotterdam dining room is redecorated. All chairs are covered by linen colored covers and matching tablecloths. Other decorations and the lighting used make the dining room seem special and different.
Dutch High Tea - HAL celebrates its' history by presenting formal high tea one afternoon in the Rotterdam dining room. The pastries are exquisite and the setting elegant. Brewed Darjeeling tea is served. A description of the tradition of high tea is presented and a pianist plays in the background.
The outdoor promenade and deck chairs. Missing from many new ships, it is a delight to walk on real teak while at sea. During our return we saw Dolphins riding our wake, while those above on the Lido were totally unaware of this going on. Sometimes the simply things really are better.
The tradition of serving lemonade in the morning and iced tea in the afternoon on all outside decks including the promenade. A thoughtful touch that is really appreciated.
Hot appetizers served to your table in all lounges pre-dinner. They vary each night and are yummy.
My few dislikes: From the day we boarded there was always something in the daily news or in the cabin paperwork about disembarkation. Being reminded that you have to get off when you just arrived is disconcerting. At least they could wait a few days!
The announcements for Bingo. Actually most announcements are kept to a minimum but not Bingo. I know I can't win if I don't play, but please stop reminding me of that fact!
While I didn't find it a problem on the Veendam, I really noticed the lack of a center stair tower this time. A center stair tower was added to the larger Rotterdam/Volendam class.
As mentioned in the report I really felt that the lido live music could be improved upon.
On the last night of our cruise I asked our first time cruisers the following questions.
What are the 5 things that you liked the best about the ship?Ruth and Lance:
- Health Spa and Gym
- Services staff in particular their room steward
- Variety of daily activities available
- The layout and facilities of the Lido/Pool area
- The casino
- Ships decor
- Dining room experience
- Room Steward
- Shore excursions and the ports visited
- Lido deck and pool area.
What were you most surprised by?
Ruth and Lance said that they were surprised the high level of personal service that they received during the cruise. They said that they had never felt so pampered and well served.
Brain and Glenda said that they were surprised by the high level of luxury onboard the ship.
What needs to be improved most?
Ruth and Lance said that the quality and variety of the entertainment needs improvement.
Glenda and Brian said that they would most like to see the decor in the Crow's Nest changed. Both said that the pulsating neon lights should be eliminated.
Will you take a cruise again?
Ruth and Lance said they would cruise again in a heartbeat. In fact Ruth said she would start planning for their next cruise as soon as they got home and it would definitely be on HAL.
Glenda and Brian said that hey would cruise again someday but they had many other travel experiences to try. When and what cruise line they would cruise with were unknown.