I am 55 years old and have been on 30 cruises on all of the major lines. My wife and I generally take about three cruises a year; this was our fourth to Mexico in the past 14 months. We have done more than 10 Mexican Riviera cruises. The other recent ships were the Star Princess out of Los Angeles and the Statendam and the Mercury (January 9, 2004) out of San Diego. Since we live in San Diego, it's an easy way to take a vacation. Many people on this cruise were from San Diego and booked the last minute, as we did. We all got great prices.
Check-in was very organized and professional. HAL allows passengers to fill in the various forms via the Internet. This really speeds things up. We arrived at the pier around 11:30 a.m. and were on the ship in 10 minutes. Holland America allows passengers to board the ship immediately rather than waiting in a crowded terminal. They asked passengers to wait until 1:30 p.m. to go to their cabins, but we were free to have lunch and tour the ship. Since this was a twin to the Statendam, we knew our way around.
The ship had a major dry dock two years ago and was in excellent condition. The crew does a nice job of keeping things very clean and orderly. There were a few glitches with elevators and I heard a few complaints about the hard beds and scratchy bath towels. But you hear this on most cruises.
We booked a guarantee and were upgraded to an outside cabin on the main deck, very far aft. HAL is known for larger cabins and this one was good sized. It had room for a full-size sofa, a bathtub and plenty of closet space. The room had no refrigerator and a tiny 13-inch TV. The TV did have inputs for those who want to attach a camera. There was only one 110-volt electrical outlet in the room and the TV was plugged into it. We asked the cabin attendant for an extension cord and he provided one.
There was a safe in each room but I didn't like the way it operated. Usually on a cruise I like to lock my wallet, credit cards, and all valuables in the safe. But to open and close this safe, you had to use a credit card. There was no charge to use the safe, but it read the code on your credit card to work. That meant you had to carry a credit card around or leave it in your cabin. I discovered that my Auto Club card worked too. So I was able to lock all my credit cards and cash and just kept my Auto Club card in a drawer.
There was a considerable amount of vibration when the ship came in to port or shifted into reverse. Others in the middle of the ship did not feel it as much. But if you get an aft cabin, you sure know when you arrive in a port at 7 a.m. There was a little vibration in the restaurant too, but it caused no problems.
We ate most of the meals in the main dining room. First seating was at 6 p.m. and second at 8:15. There is talk that HAL may try a new system where passengers can sign up for one of four dinner times. The food at breakfast and dinner was always excellent. The assortment and quality were first rate. The waiters were great and eager to please. They willingly went back to the kitchen for a second entree or an extra dessert. They serve about six entrees each night. One was a quality beef dish (filet mignon, New York steak, prime rib, etc). Other options are chicken, fish, vegetarian, pasta, and lamb. Soups were very good. The portions were a little smaller than on my last cruise, but no one went away hungry. Desserts were wonderful, with a wide assortment including sugar-free items.
One small problem at dinner -- on previous HAL cruises, you could always get a New York steak, roasted chicken breast, Caesar salad and shrimp cocktail at any dinner, even if it was not on the menu.) Apparently they have stopped this. I asked the headwaiter about this and he confirmed it. But he said if I asked him in advance, they would make something if I wanted it.
The Lido Buffet was typical. Breakfast was fine the one time I ate there. But in my opinion, lunch was just fair. They had a nice salad bar and you could get fresh stir-fry or pasta. But the buffet line items were tasteless. Frankly, most cruise ship buffets are not that good. They had pizza, hamburgers, and very good home made ice cream.
We ate at the Pinnacle Grill one night and as usual had a great meal. Service, the steaks and desserts were as good as any fine steak house. The $20 charge was well worth it. Tips are extra. Bring cash, as they will not allow tips here to be put on the bill. One night they had a special wine tasting dinner. The extra charge was $45.
There are rumors floating around the Internet that HAL is charging extra for certain food. They do not. Not only is cappuccino free at dinner and in the Java Cafe, but ice cream, hot appetizers in the bars, popcorn at the movie theater, iced tea, and lemonade are still free.
The entertainment was quite good. They had two big production shows with a cast of about 12 performers. They also featured a juggler, magician and comedian. Fortunately, they have eliminated the passenger "Talent Show" and added a "Rockin-Rolldies" show where passengers lip-sync to oldies. It's quite good and fun to watch.
The dress code seemed more relaxed than on my recent Mercury cruise. Fewer than half the men wore a tux on the two formal nights. On the informal night, men needed only a jacket. And in a surprise to me, they never banned jeans in the dining room for dinner on casual nights.
The ports were designed for three experiences. Cabo is a big resort town with lots of shopping, bars and tourists. There were three ships in port (The Mercury and Diamond Princess) and it was very crowded. Most people said shops would not "bargain" until very late in the day when the ships were leaving.
Pichilingue (La Paz) is what Cabo was 20 years ago before the big hotels and condos popped up. La Paz was very nice. It is a 25 minute bus ride from the port and they had air conditioned buses to take people into town. Each bus had a local student as a host to answer questions and talk about the area. The town of La Paz was very clean with few beggars and no one tried to force you to buy things. They had a great waterfront with a Carlos ‘n' Charlie's.
Loreto was nothing more than a dusty throwback village with little to see or do. Loreto has a nice little pier for tenders but vacant hotels and shops line the area. It is a 10 minute walk to the tourist area. There is one street full of typical junk shops and a small church.
As usual, the cruise down from San Diego was fairly smooth and uneventful until the captain abruptly stopped the ship to investigate a strange object in the water. It looked like an overturned boat from a distance. They sent a tender to investigate and it was actually a bloated, dead whale. The sudden stop caused a small stir among the passengers and even some crew members.
Heading north on the last day the seas were rougher. The 25 foot swells and our speed of 19 knots really rocked the ship. Many people missed dinner that night. We even arrived 45 minutes late back to San Diego.
Debarkation was smooth but late in starting. The first number to debark was called at 9:10 a.m. Debarkation usually starts around 8:30. Cruise officials now encourage you to relax in your cabin until your number is called. This is far better than waiting in a crowded lounge.
The age of passengers on this cruise was quite a bit younger than the previous two Holland America cruises I have taken. Since it was the start of spring break, there were many families with kids of all ages. Most were very well behaved and the younger ones seemed to like Club HAL.
Tipping as usual was confusing since HAL (for now) has a "no tipping required" policy. Most people tipped as with other cruise lines. Some surely "stiffed" the waiters and stateroom attendants. Talk is that HAL will start charging a $10 a day fee as most other ships now do for tips.
All in all it was a nice cruise. Be sure to check out my photo gallery under "Frank's Ryndam".
E-mail me at Fblack_111@yahoo.com if you have any questions.