We are addicted to cruising. This is our 15th cruise in less than four years and we have the Grand princess booked for May 7th. With God's grace, we hope to make many more.
This is a lengthy review. We tried to be as thorough as possible so that the reader would have a very good idea of what it would be like to cruise on the Ryndam. This was our second cruise on the Ryndam in the last year and a half and we came away with a new and heightened respect for the Holland American Line. We now understand more than ever why they have such a loyal following.
An Unexpected Cruise: Our cruise agent called us on March 21st and told us that although he had us booked for a May 7th cruise aboard the Grand Princess, he had to call us about a special he had just received from HAL. It seems they needed to fill some cabins on the Ryndam for an April 1st cruise to the Western Caribbean and they called their top agencies with a very special discounted price. We had sailed on the Ryndam in October 98, and had a very enjoyable cruise. It didn't take Mary & I very long to decide it was to good an offer to turn down. We have just returned from that cruise and we will share our experience with you.
As we have said in past reviews, we all look at things from a different perspective. When you read this review please remember it is only our opinion and you have to discern for yourself if our tastes are similar to yours. Mary & I will give you an honest, straight forward opinion of what we feel were the highlights and the negatives of our cruise.
Packing for Cruise: It seems our society is becoming more casual each day. We now have the Wall Street financial district and other business areas having what they call, "Casual Fridays." It won't be long before they have, "Casual Thursdays," "Causal Wednesday," and etc. What goes around comes around. It wouldn't surprise us that after the novelty of wearing jeans and polo shirts to board meetings that the powers to be started having "Dress up Friday," "Dress Up Thursday," "Dress Up Wednesday," and etc. Well, we don't have to wait, Mary & I are already there. We enjoy getting dressed up. To us it's one of the nicest features of cruising and it is very appealing to us. When we are home, although we have restaurants that being dressed up is appropriate, it isn't unusual to see someone enter in jeans or cut offs. It might be that this happens because we live in Florida, but I kind of suspect it is happening in many other places. That is one of the reasons we look forward to the formal nights. There is something very elegant about being among a group of people who are all dressed for the occasion. It is not very often, if at all, that they will have a chance wear formal attire at any other time during the year. The ladies look especially attractive in evening gowns and party dresses.
I think Mary might have wished to be born in an earlier era, those days when a women wouldn't think of traveling without a steamer trunk. But Mary isn't far behind those ladies. After our fourth cruise she made me buy the second val pack. We now have his and hers, mostly hers. We even dress up other than formal nights. We don't pay to much attention to the suggested attire of the day. We have enough casual dress when we are home. We enjoy the whole process of getting ready for the evening, it adds a bit of anticipation for what the evening will bring. We hope that the casual trend doesn't become the norm for the cruise lines. If it does, cruising will have lost a lot of its appeal for Mary & I.
Embarkation: We drove to the Fort Lauderdale Port from our home in New Smyrna Beach. The parking garage was directly across from the HAL terminal. We arrived at the terminal at 12:30. Very smooth, efficient check in process. They made a quick check of our cruise documents and told us we would board at 1:30 At 1:25 we boarded and we were escorted to our cabin.
Cabin: We had an outside cabin #643, on the Main deck, deck #5. It was a good sized cabin, with a queen sized bed, full pull out sofa, with adequate closet and drawer space. Mary is a bath person and she loved having a tub. All of HAL's outside cabins have tubs. The shelf space in the bathroom was very limited. On the shelf they had a very nice assortment of creams, lotions and shampoo. It was more than adequate.
There was a basket of fruit on the desk area, which was replenished each day. The Television channels were very limited. CCN, two Movie channels and the rest were various HAL related programs. Our cabin steward Rosman kept the cabin immaculate. He lived up to our judgement of what is a good steward. We rarely saw him but everything that needed to be done was taken care of.
Sail Away Party: We always feel a degree of excitement when we sail through the Ft. Lauderdale inlet. When we retired in 1973, for a short period of time we had a home in Ft. Lauderdale and we did a lot of boating in this area. We used the inlet on almost a daily basis. It brought back a lot of very pleasant memories.
The sail away party was held on the aft pool deck. A steel band supplied the Caribbean rhythms and it wasn't long before everyone was in the party mood. We were very surprised at the age of the guests. They were much younger than the passengers on our last Ryndam cruise. They appeared to be between the age of 35 and 55. It wasn't very long before it became a real party atmosphere with a long conga line strung out and weaving side to side between the two decks. Everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves. It got the cruise off to a good start.
Checking Table Arrangements: We make a habit of checking our table arrangements as soon as it is possible and we suggest you do so. If it turns out they aren't what you requested, you have a better chance of getting them changed if you see the Maitre`di as soon as you can. Because of our late booking we weren't confirmed for the late seating. Even though our cruise agent sent a fax to the dining room manager requesting the second seating and a specific table arrangement, he couldn't get it verified. They said they would put us on a waiting list. I told him I wanted to speak to the dining room manager. He gave me the number and told me the dining room manger of the Ryndam was Kristin. When I called she wasn't at her desk but I got a recording telling me to leave voice mail. I took the opportunity to tell her that on our last cruise aboard the Ryndam we had a very bad situation concerning our table and we were very unhappy, but because of the professional and sensitive way the situation was resolved by the Maitre`di Jerry Spies, we had one of our better cruises. In fact, later on in the week, Jerry Spies extended an invitation for us to have dinner with the captain. It is hardly what we expected being the way the cruise started out. We accepted and had a wonderful evening. Mary was the captains dinner partner and he seemed as pleased as she was..
When we returned home I wrote a letter to the personnel director of HAL in their Seattle office, with a copy to Jerry Spies, and told them of the valued employee they had in Jerry Spies and how he helped resolve a very difficult situation and etc. & etc. I received a letter back from Donna Franchimon, the personnel director thanking me for being so thoughtful and for taking the time to write the letter and also stating if she could ever do anything for us to let her know. I told the dining room manager Kristin this story and it evidently meant something to her, because when we checked our table we were greeted by the Maitre`di in charge, Agus, with a big smile. He said he was told to give us preferential treatment and he was happy to tell us we had the second seating as we requested and he arranged to have us seated at the same table that they had moved us to on our first cruise. It was more than we had expected and we were delighted. I guess it is true, what goes around comes around. Through the years, whenever we have an exceptional service rendered or are extended a significant kindness, we make it a habit to write a letter to the department head, with a copy to the employee, complimenting that employee. It goes into their personal file and means a great deal to them. Many times it means more than a tip.
Dining Room: The Ryndam dining room is outstanding and is unique among the dining rooms we have seen on any of our cruises. We were seated at the rail of the balcony overlooking the lower level. The ceiling above the open area is certainly a work of art. It consists of 600 to 700 individual Venetian glass shades that look like inverted petunia blossoms. They are about 18 inches at the opening and are set at four different levels but all placed closely together. Instead of a light bulb in each one, they have a filament that is imbedded in the fluted glass approximately five inches from the base. The lighted ceiling is breath taking and is truly a work of Art. The dining room walls are mostly glass, giving the diner the ability to look out at the ocean when having breakfast and lunch. The openness to the sea gives the dining room a very bright, cheerful, pleasant atmosphere. We were sorry we didn't have breakfast and lunch there more often. Another very appealing feature of the dining room was a large sunken music area on the upper balcony level, where the Rosario String Quartet played during dinner. In most ships dining rooms you can barely hear the music and if you can it is mostly annoying. No so with the Rotterdam dining room. It was a distinct pleasure to be able to listen to The Rosario String Quartet play chamber music as we enjoyed our dinner. A decided plus.
We were finishing our lunch in the main dining room when I noticed the waiters and assistants doing something very unusual with the table settings. I asked Augus what they were doing and he said they started doing this at the beginning of the Millennium. It is now their policy that on the second formal night of the cruise they reset the tables with off white damask table clothes and napkins and then they do something we have never seen done before. They completely covered the chairs with off white coverings, that were form fitting and hung to the floor. It gave a most unusual but very rich appearance. They hung wide bands of black and white material across the ceiling of the open area and completely encased the two large columns in the center of the dining room with gold lamay from floor to ceiling. It created an elegant look that added immeasurably to the formal night atmosphere. It gave you the feeling you were going to experience something very special. And that is just what the evening was. It was, very special.
Food, Main Dining Room: We were very pleased with the food. We noticed a decided improvement since our last cruise. What was especially impressive was the evening we were served Lobster Tails, Mary's favorite. They were of good size and broiled to perfection.. Each evening they gave us a choice of salad and either one was excellent. We found the desserts and pastries to be much better. They had a very good assortment and they were very tasty.
Although the food was much better than we expected the service was even more so. We had a wonderful group of servers, starting with Putraham, our waiter, Indra the assistant waiter, Rocky the wine steward, and finally the assistant Maitre`di Augus. They couldn't do enough for us. They catered to us and pampered us as if we were the only guests in their dining area. I don't think we have ever seen a group of people that were as warm, friendly and sincere as our servers. There is something very appealing about the Indonesian and Filipino people. There is almost a naivete, an innocense about them. Angus, a very handsome young man, was an outstanding assistant Maitre`di. On many ships the Maitre`di comes around to each table each night to say a few words so you will remember to tip him on the last night, Not Augus. Augus poured water, Augus helped serve, Augus helped clean off tables, Augus helped serve dessert, Augus did everything. Mary told him if we were still in the restaurant business, we would steal him away from HAL. I think he was very pleased with Mary's comment. I know we will meet him again and I am sure he will be in an even higher position. He's a very special person. If you sail the Ryndam, say hello to Augus.
The Ocean Bar where they played our kind of music: The Ocean Bar is a delightful lounge where we had cocktails and danced before and after dinner. It is staffed by Mylene, Miraluz, Roderick and Adolpho. Just as I said about the dining room crew, the lounge servers went out of their way to take care of our every need. I can't think of any other ship that serves hot hors d`oeuvres while your waiting for your cocktail order. They do on the Ryndam. They did this every evening. And just before we would leave, Roderick would show us the dining room menu for that night so we could have an advanced look at what they were serving..
In the Ocean Bar, they feature a very accomplished trio that played the kind of music we like to dance to. That good old forties & fifties music. That romantic music of that period that makes you want to hold your spouse just a little closer and just little tighter. I can't think of a nicer way to start an evening than to have a table in a intimate lounge and to be served hors d`oeuvres and cocktails and have an occasional dance as you bide your time before dinner. We saw many of the same people in the lounge each evening and got to spend time with some of them. One couple we met, the Frahms, have cruised 26 times and have traveled extensively. We found we had a lot in common with them and intend to keep in touch through E-Mail.
The piano player and leader of the group, was an exceptional piano player., He had a very small keyboard on top of the piano, with which he could create all the different sounds of an orchestra. He played one of a Jack Jones hit songs, 'Here's That Rainy Day,' that was as good a rendition as we have ever heard. If you like to dance, or if you just like to listen to some good music, spend some time in the Ocean Bar. If you would like to hear something special, ask the group to play, 'Here's That Rainy Day.'
We never went to the Crows Nest, a disco lounge, at the top of the ship. We understand it was very nice but it's not our choice of music. We understand they also served hot and cold hors d`oeuvres.
We really believe that if the younger generation was taught to dance the Fox Trot like we did in the forties and fifties there wouldn't be as much violence. By the time they danced a few numbers holding their sweethearts tightly in their arms, close to them, they would mellow out and become docile. Instead of being angry and wanting to fight, they'll want to make love. (Maybe that's far fetched, but we find the thought amusing.)
Piano Bar: There is also a piano bar on the upper promenade deck. Keith Kerslake keeps things lively by getting the group to sing along with him. We didn't participate but we passed the entrance two or three times a night and he always had a good crowd and everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves. If you sail the Ryndam, you will be impressed by the two magnificent huge bouquets of flowers on each side of the entrance. I took pictures of Mary with the floral arrangements as backdrops and they turned out great. This might be the time to tell you that we have never seen as many beautiful floral bouquets as we saw on the Ryndam. There is no way we can describe their beauty. We made it a point of taking pictures in front of each of them.
Explorers Lounge: The Explorers lounge has a very unusual setting. What normally would be a wall facing the deck area, is instead the back of the lounges that have very comfortable seating for two's and four's and sixes. It gives the lounge a very open feeling. On the right hand side is a slightly raised area, again with lounges but with higher backs which gives you the impression you are in a separate room. In this area is a small bandstand that is the home of the Rosario String Quartet. They play there every night and have a very loyal following. High tea is served in this lounge from 3:30 to 4:00. It is white glove service and done very well. They serve tea and an assortment of finger sandwiches, Petits Fours and pastries while the Rosario Quartet serenades you with selections of chamber music. A wonderful place to visit before taking an afternoon siesta. Once during the week they serve Dutch High Tea in the main dining room.
Java Cafe: The Java Cafe is a place that serves Coffee, Cappuccino, Coffee Lotte, and chocolate chip cookies from 9:00 in the morning till 4:00 in the afternoon, ALL FOR FREE. It's right across from the Wajang Theater. The cute little girl that takes care of this venue is Evangeline. She is as sweet and fresh as the morning dew. When Mary & I cruise we usually have two cups of Cappuccino or Coffee Lotte each day, at a cost of $2.50 a cup or $10.00 dollars a day. Because of the recent wave of cruise lines charging extra for many items, it's even more impressive that Hal includes this in their ticket price, ALL FOR FREE!
The Lido Lunch and Alternate Dinning Room: The Lido lunch room is a very attractive site. It has a generally warm feeling about it. The food was very good. For breakfast they made eggs to order. At lunch time they had 4 or 5 hot meat dishes each day and a very good variety of lunch items. They also have a very nice salad bar. There is also an area where they display assorted pastry with an attendant standing by to serve you. Toward the later part of lunch they put the pastries and assorted sandwiches in a cylindrical refrigerated display case that rotates. When you decide what you want you wait till it comes around and when you open the door it stops rotating and you can take out your selection.
If you would like to hear a little piano music while your having lunch, go to the port side of the Lido in the aft section, and you will find Frank Banes at a white baby grand piano. He plays all of the old standards and is very good. It makes for a very pleasant lunch.
Part of the Lido is used for alternate dinning. The tables are tastefully set and they have a limited menu. Its popular for families that have been ashore and don't feel like getting dressed up for dinner and for those who are looking for a more relaxed atmosphere.
Lido Ice Cream Bar: One of the most popular places on the ship is the Lido ice cream bar. You can get four different flavors of ice cream and they change every day. You can also get Yogurt in a waffle cone..After you get your ice cream they have an area that you can get all the fixings to make a sundae, fresh whipped cream, chocolate, butterscotch, raspberry syrup, every kind of nuts, shaved chocolate, sprinkles or just about anything else you can use with ice cream. IT'S ALL FOR FREE A day never went by that we didn't at least make one visit to the ice cream bar, and we have the weight to show for it.
The Pool Area's: The Ryndam has a very nice pool area. The first thing that catches your eye is a bronze sculpture by the steps of the pool featuring five leaping dolphins. It's a very beautiful piece of art. The pool has a five foot area extending from the coping that is flooded with 6-8 inches of water. It's very enjoyable to lay down with your back against bench, surrounding the pool, and have the water slosh back and forth across your body, with the movement of the ship.
There are two Jacuzzi's adjoining the pool. The pool has a sliding glass paneled roof enclosure that can be closed when it rains or partially closed to block out the wind for evening deck parties. At one end of the pool is the Pool bar with a charming seating area with tables & wicker chairs. On the opposite end of the pool is a Frank & Hamburger grill. Adjoining this area is a another cooking station where you can get various kinds of Thai food, in all different forms. Taco's, Burritos, etc. & etc. A chef stands by to assist you in making a choice. There is another very nice pool with abundant lounges on the lower deck at the aft end of the ship. Great views from this area
Another very nice touch by Holland American is that at 11: 0'clock in the morning they serve lemonade to everyone on the open decks and at 3: 0'clock in the afternoon they serve ice tea to everyone on the open decks. ALL FOR FREE.
Entertainment: This is not a strong point with HAL. I think they cater to a clientele that doesn't consider entertainment that important. I think they concentrate on other amenities that are much more appealing to their loyal cruisers. The best that can be said for the production shows is that they were nice. We saw a magic act that was very good. The magician billed himself as The Brazilian Sicilian from Brooklyn. How's that for a handle. His illusions were really good but his dialogue was even better. We were also treated to special show put on by the Show Choir of Carmel Indiana. They were a group of over 100 high school students that have put on shows all over the world. They were fully costumed and had beautiful voices. They were a big hit.
Captains Party: Very nicely done but we think they missed a great opportunity to add additional enjoyment to the occasion. They had the Ryndam show orchestra on stage. They played the great standards and everyone was tapping their feet to the rhythm but no one ever made a announcement inviting the guests onto the stage to dance, which is done on most ships..We all sat in our seats for 50 minutes until the Captain was introduced.
For Holland American loyalists, at the repeaters party the captain announced that HAL is coming out with a new ship (63,00 tons) in May, another of the same class in the fall, 2 ships (84,000 tons ) in 2002, 1 ship (84,000 tons) in 2003 and 1 ship (84,000 Tons) in 2004. I think if we put a fine edge on our bargaining tools we could get some excellent pricing on fall cruising.
Casino: Quite small. Very little action. I think this is another example of Holland American knowing their clientele. They put their money and efforts into the areas they know their guests prefer.
Half Moon Cay: We heard a number of people say if they had their druthers, they wouldn't mind if they staid at Half Moon Cay for the week. It is an absolutely beautiful Caribbean paradise. This pristine beach stretches for some two miles. The sand is soft and white without any of the rock formations you find on many islands and the water sparkled with every hue of green as the sun struck the water.. The Masdam was also at anchor and even with the additional people the beach never looked crowded.
In the late 60's, we had a condo in Puerto Rico and made hydroplane trips to Magens Bay which is reputed to be one of the top ten beaches in the world. We have always loved it there. But after seeing and spending a day at Half Moon Cay, there is no comparison. It's like comparing apples and pears. We never expected it to be as nice as it is.
Grand Cayman: Went to the Beach Hotel resort next to the Hilton on seven mile beach. The beach is really nothing extra but from it's location you can walk down the beach to areas where you can wade and swim with no one within two to three hundred yards of you. It was delightful
Cozumel: Cozumel has become one of our favorite ports because of the store, Los Cinco Soles and the restaurant to the rear of that store, "Pancho's Backyard." Los Cinco Soles is our favorite store of the whole Caribbean. We go through all the shops and then make our purchases there. They have everything conceivable item plus a wonderful women's boutique. At Pancho's Backyard, they have a Marimba band playing for lunch and until 3 o'clock. Shopping at Los Cinco Soles, then having lunch at Pancho, makes for a very nice port stop.
This is the End of Our Novel: We haven't previously kept notes on our previous cruises in preparation for writing a review.. We relied on our memory. But since we have our reviews posted on several web sites, we have received a huge amount of mail, even some from Europe, asking all kids of questions and asking for our suggestions on various aspects of cruising. We have learned that many of the readers rely heavily on reviews for making critical decisions about when and where and with what line they will make their next cruise. We feel a deepened responsibility to review readers and also to the Cruise lines, that the information that we convey is truthful and honest and as thorough and as unbiased as possible. Because of that realization, we kept a small notebook with us at all times during this cruise and jotted down the things we thought would be of interest. The results of which is this review.