This review presents my impressions of this 35 day voyage comprised of a five day coastal cruise from Vancouver to San Diego, and then a 30-day Hawaii/South Pacific voyage onboard Holland America's ms Statendam M
I'm also going to write this review "freeform." I'll use headings so you can easily skip to the parts that may be important to you.
Embarkation Embarkation was a snap! I had just gotten off a Carnival cruise the day before and flown from LAX to Vancouver. I spent one night pre-cruise at the Pan Pacific Hotel. Because of the advantage of that one night stay, I was refreshed and relaxed on embarkation day for this sailing. My only regret was not having more time to see Vancouver, because I found it to be a lovely city with lots to see and do there.
I have long been a proponent of taking one's time to embark a ship. There's no reason, in my opinion, to be the first one on the ship, especially for a long cruise. So, on embarkation morning I took my time and enjoyed the amenities of the Pan Pacific Hotel until the last possible moment. At about 11:15, I called down to the bell captain's desk and had him come up and pick up my huge suitcase for delivery to the ship. This is a nice "bennie" to staying at the Pan Pacific. The cruise ship terminal is actually attached to the hotel, and one need only walk down to the lobby, switch over to the parking garage elevator, and head down to the cruise ship level for check-in.
After giving my heavy luggage to the bell captain, I made my way downstairs to the lobby at a little after noon. Within minutes, I was in the check-in line and through security. The entire process took no more than 15 minutes, and I was walking onto the ship, room card in hand. No muss. No fuss.
As a sidenote, another nice thing about staying at the Pan Pacific is that I didn't even have to step outside in order to get to the cruise terminal. Every step of the way was indoors. This is important when it's raining cats and dogs, and the weather is chilly. I didn't even realize how cold it was until I walked through the enclosed walkway to get onto the ship. I only had a light windbreaker jacket on, and really appreciated that I was indoors the entire time of this embarkation. I also found out that it was raining for the first time as I walked onto the ship. True, I had a nice panoramic window in my room at the Pan Pacific, but for some reason, I just didn't realize from that high up that it was raining out (I was on the 20th floor ... the smoking floor of that hotel).
Cabin Of course, rooms were not quite ready when I embarked, so I was directed to the Lido. Since I wasn't really hungry I just grabbed a cup of java and plopped down at a table. Got my first chance to strike up a conversation with strangers ... something I love to do on cruises, and met a nice "senior" couple who were very excited about this cruise. They told me it was to be their longest one yet. We talked a bit about the ports we would be visiting and I shared with them my little knowledge of Hawaii, since they had never been there.
As soon as the announcement came on that cabins were ready, I went to check out my home for the next 35 days. After my experience on Carnival, I was hoping this cabin would be a bit more roomy, which it was.
I had an unobstructed outside cabin on the Main Deck (cabin 641). This was a nice upgrade that I had received from the inside cabin I had booked. The bed was made up as a double (per my request) and everything was in order. All of the things I had ordered -- a bottle of wine, as well as cocktail cards, shore excursion reservations, etc., were all there. My cabin steward, Mohammed, stopped by to introduce himself and see if there was anything he could do for me. When I asked for an ashtray, he brought me a brand new one, still in the box. It is the kind they normally put on balconies, completely enclosed with a push handle in the center to "flush" your butts inside.
Fortunately, luggage arrived shortly thereafter, allowing me to get the unpleasant unpacking chore out of the way before lifeboat drill. To me, a cruise doesn't really start until those two items are complete.
The cabin had plenty of storage space. I couldn't possibly fill it all, and I doubt even a couple could have. There were three large closet sections, not to mention six full drawers in the desk/bureau, and two nightstands with two drawers each that you could lock with a key. The only thing that surprised me was that the safe in the room was apparently one of the older ones that has a separate card to lock it, rather than being of the combination lock type. This meant that you had to carry a second card around with you if you wanted to be sure the items in the safe were secure. I've never seen these types of safes on HAL ships before; they must be an older variety.
The cabin itself was in a great location, rather close to the aft elevators. Normally this could be a problem on a ship with an active nightlife. I would imagine you could get a lot of noise -- people getting on and off elevators and tramping by your cabin, laughing and talking. But not on this sailing. We didn't have the "party hardy" type passenger makeup.
The only problem I noted during the whole 35 day sailing with my cabin was that at night it would often creak and groan with the motion of the waves. I guess this was because I had a window (I normally have inside cabins), so the noise was probably a bit more noticeable. But, hey -- ships move -- they float on the water -- and this creaking and groaning is just the ship expanding and contracting with the movement.
The other problem, not so much with the cabin as with the cabin location, was that for the first five days or so of the cruise there was a terrible "sewage" type smell, predominantly in the aft part of the ship. I initially thought this was probably some sort of cooking odor wafting down from the galley, but later I heard that the problem was a broken sewage pipe they were working on fixing. Another story I got was that the smell was "normal" -- the result of a couple of chemicals that are mixed for waste disposal purposes. But since the problem went away after a few days, I tend to think the broken sewage pipe explanation was the correct one.
Dining If anyone goes hungry on this ship, it's their own fault. There are plenty of places to eat, drink and be merry here.
I had the "dreaded" As You Wish Dining on this sailing, and even though I wasn't happy about the prospect, I made up my mind to go into it without prejudgments. It wasn't anywhere near as bad as I thought it would be. Actually, it was kind of nice because it gave me some real flexibility in deciding when I wanted to eat.
I guess I should say, for the record, that eating is not a big deal for me. As long as the food is edible, I'm happy. I'm the type of person who likes to eat when they are hungry, not necessarily at pre-determined times, so I'm surprised I was dreading this format of dining since it would seem ready-made for me.
Lido Restaurant: I took all of my breakfasts and lunches, and many of my dinners here. On past cruises, the Lido wasn't a good option for dinner because the hours were so limited, but now they have them from 5:30 to 8:00 p.m. Dinner service in the Lido is a cut above the other meals. You go through a serving line, picking up your appetizer and salad. A server will get your soup and take your entree order, including sides. When you get to the end of the line, a smiling steward will take your tray and deliver it to your table, picking up your coffee along the way. He can even help you put together your salad if you wish.
For dinner service, all the tables have white tablecloths and candles on them. There is limited tableside service, and a steward will pour your water and even get your coffee if you so desire. A bar steward also makes the rounds for those people who would like a drink with dinner.
I enjoyed breakfast in the Lido immensely as well. You can get omelets to order, as well as eggs. Each day there are different items, but pretty much they are the same -- standard breakfast fare. I really can't comment too much on the breakfast food, as I am pretty much a creature of habit. I like my cold cereal or oatmeal with fruit, perhaps some white toast or a bagel, and lots of java. But I didn't hear too many people complaining about the quality of the breakfast offerings, so I assume probably everything was acceptable.
Lunch I can't really comment on at all. I rarely eat lunch and can only recall a couple of times going to the Lido for a salad to hold me over until dinner.
Each night there would also be a late night buffet in the Lido -- at around 11:00 p.m. Each night was a different "theme" -- Italian, Mexican, Indonesian, All American, etc. I only went up for two of these on nights where perhaps I had skipped dinner because I got "busy" in my cabin writing, and on both occasions the offerings were plentiful and the food decent.
I guess I should say right now that I heard a lot of people saying that the food on HAL has "slipped." I honestly wouldn't know if that's true or not. I found everything I ate to be fine. But, like I said, food is not a high priority item with me, so perhaps I'm much easier to please than most. Also, I heard people say that the portions have gotten smaller. This comment I have to outright laugh about. If the portion is small, just ask for two. What's the problem? I am only too happy to get smaller portions. I don't like the idea of wasting food. If I am still hungry, I'll just ask for a second helping. No big deal.
Main Dining Room:I was on the lower level of the Rotterdam Dining Room, since I was assigned to As You Wish Dining. I was dreading this format of dining mainly because although I had good friends with me on this cruise, the bottom line is that I'm a single and I don't like the idea of being put in the position of having to dine alone while I am on vacation. I figured with As You Wish that could easily happen, especially if my friends were not going to the main dining room that night; perhaps having dinner in their cabin. Well, I needn't have worried.
I got my first chance to dine solo on the third night of the cruise. My friends were not scheduled to board the Statendam until we got to San Francisco, so I was on my own for the first three days of the cruise. On the first night, I was busy doing other things and never went to the dining room. In fact, I decided to skip dinner altogether and just go up to the Lido for the late night buffet. The second night was a formal night, so I went to the Lido. On the third night, however, I decided to give the main dining room a shot and just walked in. I was seated at a table for six with two other couples. This was nice because it gave me a chance to get acquainted with some of my fellow cruisers. The only problem I noted, however, was that service seemed slow. This did not appear to be the fault of the servers in this case, but rather some sort of back-up in the kitchen. There would be breaks in the service -- like after all pre-entrees and before the main entree -- where we would be left to sit twiddling our thumbs before the main courses came out of the kitchen. This problem was not isolated to the As You Wish Dining either. It was also evident in traditional. When my friends, Trisha and Virgil, got onboard in San Francisco, Trisha and I decided to dine in the dining room. Trisha had a spot in early traditional. Since her husband doesn't like going to the main dining room at all, she suggested I take his place. We were at a table for ten, I believe, and the service was incredibly slow. After two separate nights of this, she dumped her slots in traditional dining and we both went back to As You Wish.
Another problem we encountered with As You Wish Dining is that you could not get a table for two without a reservation. If you just walked in, you would be seated at a large table with others. Now, I have no problem with this. In fact, I like it. But the problem we experienced was that when we would sit at a table with others, we had to all be on the same course of the meal. For example, on this particular night, Trisha and I were seated at a table for six. A couple was already there when we arrived. They had not received menus yet. When we sat down, the four of us got menus and we ordered. We were served our soups and appetizers when another couple joined us. We did not get our entrees until that couple had finished with their soup, salad and appetizers. Then we were all served our entrees. This meant that the meal took close to two hours for us, and probably a bit longer for the first couple who I don't know how long were sitting there without menus until we arrived.
Trisha and I asked one of the servers how we could get a table for two in the future. He told us that all of the tables for two were reserved for the rest of the cruise. This went directly against what we had been told in the past -- that a table for two could be reserved by calling the reservations line in the morning; and that you could not reserve it for the entire cruise -- just for that day. Trisha spoke to the guest relations manager about the problem the next day, and we had the immediate attention of the dining room manager by that night. He told us that the person who gave us the information that all of the tables for two were booked for the entire cruise was dead wrong, and he would speak to him about it. He told us that he had a "reservations list" for those tables and we would be added to it. He said that he was working diligently to try and please everyone and he would certainly do the same for us. In fact, after this little chat that evening in the Lido, we never had a problem reserving a table for two again. The only catch was that you had to eat early. Those tables needed to be turned over for maximum use since so many people wanted them. In fact, this dining room manager, Kristian, was very, very forthcoming with me. He told me that As You Wish Dining was presenting a lot of challenges for him on long cruises such as ours since most people don't care for it. The type of passengers on this type of lengthy voyage prefer traditional dining, and there is no way the entire passenger complement can have it. While he can use parts of the lower level dining room for traditional service, there are only certain parts he can use, and as a result there are gonna be some passengers "stuck" in As You Wish who don't want to be. He told me that his "Wish" was that HAL would drop As You Wish on the longer sailings.
I found the food choices to be adequate, though not as plentiful as in the past. The food was tasty and I was usually able to find something on the menu I could enjoy. The evidence of cutbacks was there, though, in that there didn't seem to be as much choice or variety as I seem to recall from before, though I could always find something to enjoy. I heard reports that the desserts weren't that great -- at least not as good as they were in the past -- but I honestly can't comment on that because my standard dessert of choice has always been sorbet in the dining room and sherbert in the Lido. I am alergic to chocolate, and since most desserts are chocolate-based, I rarely sampled any others.
Pinnacle Grill: I love this place. We ate at the Pinnacle four times for dinner and once for lunch. Three of the dinners and the lunch we ate in the main room, right as you walk in. As the meal would progress, it would get rather hot. By the end of the meal, poor Trish was ready to pull her clothes off. Virgil too complained of being warm, though I was fine -- probably because of some medication I take that seems to make me cold all of the time.
I found the food to be absolutely delicious as Pinnacle steaks always are. I had the petite fillet at dinner and even though it was supposedly "petite," I couldn't finish it. I order my steaks medium rare and in all cases it was cooked to perfection. For the one lunch we enjoyed there, I had a small luncheon steak which was also very good. I stuck with sorbet for dessert and often would have a double scoop.
Service was attentive, especially for the one Pinnacle dinner where we were the guests of the hotel manager, Theo Haanen, and his wife Helen. The Culinary Manager and his wife, Maggie, joined us as well. This time we sat in the back room and had almost the undivided attention of five people, including the Pinnacle Grill Manager. If we would take a sip of water, almost instantly the water glasses were topped off. As soon as we could take our first cut of meat, the Pinnacle Manager was there to make sure it was cooked to our liking. We couldn't even ask for anything, because before we could verbalize the request, it had been anticipated and the needed item provided. Talk about service! But the thing was that the service was great for all of the meals -- just exceptionally so for this one. Dining at the Pinnacle is one of the highlights of any HAL cruise for me. But then, I'm a meat and potatoes girl at heart anyway. I could well imagine someone who is not a beef eater not particularly enjoying the dining experience there. That's probably why the menu is being expanded to include other items, such as Lobster, as well. On the Statendam, that new menu was set to go into place with the cruise after ours -- so I can't really comment on it.
Room Service: For some reason, I just didn't use room service on this cruise. Some of them I do, and some I don't. Depends on my routine on the particular cruise. On this one, I just preferred to go to the Lido if I just wanted a quick bite. I was doing a lot of writing in my cabin this trip and really didn't have the room to eat comfortably there. I had my computer and notes and everything else all spread out on the desk and didn't feel like moving everything to make room for a room service tray. So I can't comment on the room service on the Statendam, other to say that my friends used it, as well as others I talked to around the ship, and I didn't hear any of them complaining about it.
Pool Grill: Like I said, I rarely eat lunch. However, once or twice I did grab some pizza or a hot dog at the Pool Grill and it was fine. Lots of choice for condiments, reasonably quick service, decent food. For a quick bite, it's fine. Wouldn't want to eat their fare every meal, though. What can I say? It's a typical pool grill -- burgers, fries, pizza, tacos, hot dogs, etc.
Entertainment and Activities There was a show every night, including four cast production shows. They were typical cruise ship fare. If you're expecting Broadway, you're gonna be disappointed. You'll never get that on a cruise ship, at least not a mass market or even premium one. There were other entertainers provided on other nights, such as musicians, comediennes, magicians, etc., and the ones I saw were reasonably good. I have to say, though, that I don't go to even half the shows presented onboard. It's just not my thing.
Special entertainment was brought onboard a couple of times -- a Hula show and a Polynesian one. The "hula babies" were absolutely adorable and I took picture after picture of them. There was also an Indonesian and Filopino Crew Show presented, but sadly I missed them. 11:30 at night is just a bit too late for me to be fighting for a seat in the Queens Lounge to watch a show. I caught portions of it on the in-cabin tv the next day.
There was music in all the lounges, though our favorite was Darlene and the HALCats. We just liked their brand of music, especially the rock and roll they would do at the various sailaway parties. They also did other type of music at other venues, such as at the various Balls held in the Crow's Nest, which allowed Darlene to showcase the other styles of music she is capable of singing.
There were a full slate of activities on this cruise -- trivia, morning "coffee chats" with the entertainers, Explorations Speakers Series, Dam Dollar events, etc. If you like these sorts of things, that's great. Other than the occasional lecture or coffee chat, I didn't partake of many of them. I much prefer curling up with a good book (actually my Kindle) or writing. Those are the things that keep me busy on a leisurely day at sea. Those are the things I most enjoy. But others seemed to keep quite busy and I met people onboard who loved the Dam Dollar events and participated in just about every one of them.
Since this was such a long cruise, four "social hosts" were brought onboard for dancing and whatnot. They used to be called "gentleman hosts," but HAL changed their title to social host and the job description now involves a lot more than dancing. They are also expected to host singles tables for lunch every sea day, as well as be good conversationalists as well. They would also occasionally be on shore excursions as escorts as well.
There was also a priest and a minister on this cruise, and I would note services being held each day. Normally I go to these, but on this cruise I didn't attend nondenominational services very regularly, just due to my particular schedule and "style" on this cruise. The few services I did attend, though, were very well attended and I have a feeling that crowd were "regulars" who had gotten very friendly and comfortable with each other, just as it should be in a congregation. There were also Jewish services held on Fridays, so I can only assume a Rabbi was onboard as well.
An interesting thing I noted was that HAL kept switching around the times for the shows. If there was a special event going on that night, they might change the show times from the normal 8:00 and 10:00 p.m. to 7:00 and 9:00. This meant that all late seating diners had to go to the 7:00 p.m. show and the early seating folks went to the 9:00. What it actually translated to was more people eating in the Lido that night and the first show being packed. They would have to add folding chairs to accommodate the crowd. Then I would imagine the 9:00 p.m. show having the theater with empty seats all over the place.
We also had several special events on this cruise -- a Black and White Ball, a Sailors Ball and a Farewell Ball. These events took place up in the Crow's Nest at around 10:00 p.m. I went to a couple of them, but didn't stay more than an hour. Balls are just not my sort of thing.
We also had a Crossing the Equator Ceremony which was fun. The only problem was that probably the whole ship was out on the aft deck for this event and it was packed. You couldn't really take too many good pictures for the crowd. Also, HAL received a way too small supply of "Crossing the Equator" teeshirts. It became a free for all to get one and at one point I thought a fistfight was gonna break out when one passenger claimed that another had ripped the tee-shirt that she was going to buy out of her hand.
We also had the Chocolate Extravaganza up on the Lido Deck one night. They opened the buffet up for 15 minutes strictly for picture taking, before letting people dig in. I went up for that purpose since I can't eat chocolate. However, I was very disappointed not to see chocolate covered strawberries as a part of that. They had always been there in the past -- at least they were on my last cruise in 2007. But I guess budget cuts nixed them? Everything else looked pretty good, though, and the offerings were quite elaborate.
The only real criticism I have about the activities and entertainment was with the amount of announcements that were made over the loudspeakers. The cruise director, Mike, seemed big on announcements and there were a lot more of them on this cruise than I have ever heard on a HAL ship. I can understand announcements for major events, like the Crossing the Equator Ceremony, or if there's been a schedule change, or whatever. But normally there is no need for them. We get daily programs delivered to our staterooms every night. People can read. As long as the venues and times are correct in the daily program, then there should be no reason for an announcement "reminding" people that Bingo is starting in 15 minutes, or that there's an art auction taking place in the Ocean Bar at 3:00. Yet we got a lot of announcements of this type, and frankly, they became annoying after awhile.
But other than the slew of announcements, the cruise director seemed to be adequate, though not as visible around the ship as I've seen some. He was personable and friendly whenever I did talk to him.
Ship The Statendam is one of the older ships in HAL's fleet, but you wouldn't know it by her appearance. The ship seemed in fine shape, though many of the public areas were often cold. We would sometimes like to meet up in the morning in the Crow's Nest, but had to stop doing that because it was just way too cold in there. It was actually like an icebox up there some mornings.
I was very impressed with how clean this ship is kept. I would always observe crew members polishing and cleaning in the public areas. They were even removing windows and either cleaning or replacing them in some areas of the ship on port days.
The public areas, including the lounges and bars, were all elegant with little evidence of wear and tear in the carpets or furnishings -- at least that I could see.
Messy tables were always bussed promptly. This was a sore point with me from the Carnival Paradise cruise I took just before this one. I remember several times sitting out on the Paradise's Lido and observing tables laden with dirty dishes sitting there sometimes for an hour or more before being cleaned up. I remember thinking, I hope it's not this way on the Statendam -- and it wasn't. One would no sooner get up, their dirty dishes would be cleared. Ashtrays in the bars, too, would promptly be emptied long before they became full. The Statendam was just a clean ship, and that's a tribute to her wonderful crew.
Internet I would normally not include this heading in a review, but am prompted to because of the comments made in another review of this cruise. I thank God I didn't have the bad luck with the internet that the other reviewer did -- or I'd have been sunk. I blogged almost daily on this cruise and I found internet speeds to be more than adequate. At least I had no problems and I was working from my own personal laptop in my cabin on an almost daily basis. In fact, I remember being very impressed by the internet speed on the Statendam, especially since I was still steaming about my one Carnival Paradise encounter with the internet. To check one email box and print out one email, it took me well over 30 minutes. I had purchased a small 30 minute package, figuring it would be more than adequate for my relatively minor needs. Imagine my disgust when I got a notice upon logoff that I had gone over those 30 minutes, by almost another 15, just to do this little bit of work. Thankfully, when I got to the Statendam and logged onto the internet for the first time a day or so into the sailing, I found the internet to be brisk and was able to accomplish in about 5 minutes what it had taken me almost 45 to do on the Carnival Paradise. In fact, the next morning I happened to be having a smoke on the aft deck when I saw someone wearing an Maritime Telecommunications Network teeshirt. Figuring he was with the company, I took the time to go over to him and tell him of my pleasure with the internet service on the Statendam. I also told him of my displeasure with Carnival's. He was appreciative of my comments, said he would look into the Carnival problems, and told me that they were constantly making improvements to the system.
I have to go on record as saying that I never experienced a problem with the Statendam's internet service -- either in terms of speed or connectivity -- except for a few days when it was completely down, presumably due to heavy fog. Also, true, it did get a bit slow on the last full day of the cruise, when presumably loads of people were trying to get onto their airlines' website to print their boarding passes for their next day's flights home.
I also have to comment on the competence of the internet manager, Jackie. She knows her stuff. I had some major issues initially with getting wireless access. She diagnosed the problem as being an outdated wireless card and loaned me one of hers for the sailing. Then, once I was successful in getting on the internet, I had a problem sending email. I know my profiles were correct because I had sent and received email on the same computer at the Pan Pacific Hotel the night before the cruise. Jackie quickly diagnosed the problem as a server authentication box not being checked on my email profiles. Apparently, on the ship that box needs to be checked, while at the Pan Pacific it did not. Once she got those problems resolved, I never experienced another for the rest of the cruise.
So, I'm really sorry to hear about the other reviewer's internet problems, because my experience was entirely different.
Service Attentive is the best way I can describe this. In a bar, all you have to do is make eye contact and you'll have your favorite drink. In the Lido, there was always a smiling face to greet you in the morning, often with a song. There was always someone offering to carry your tray to your table. At dinner, service was attentive in the dining room. While there may have been backlogs (such as between appetizers and the entree), I honestly believe those were more the fault of the kitchen staff than anyone else. It seemed the servers were anxious to please and would do just about anything for you.
The single thing that really sticks out in my mind from this cruise is the night I was waiting at a table in the Lido to talk with Kristian, the dining room manager. The assistant had gone to page him and then came back to me to tell me he would be right up. As he did, I was starting to get up to go and get a cup of java. He asked me what I wanted and I told him I was just heading over to get a cup of coffee. "No, no," he told me "you don't get your own coffee, you're on vacation." He then asked me how I liked my coffee and summoned a server to get it. It's just things like that that makes sailing HAL special. While the service on Carnival was certainly adequate, it was nothing like that. There were many other such incidents as well.
My cabin steward too was very good and very friendly. Any morning he would see me walking by, he stopped me with a cherry hello and told me to have a wonderful day. We also shared a couple of short conversations which let me know about his life a bit. He told me about his wife and son at home in Indonesia, and even showed me a picture of them. He said he misses them and hopes one day to make enough money to open a business there and be able to stay at home with his family. It is clear he's a hard worker, because he quickly learned my habits and knew that I tended to go to dinner early. He also knew that I liked to write in the cabin some evenings and didn't like to be disturbed when I was doing so. So he made sure to be observant for when I left the cabin for dinner. Then he would get right in there, cleaning it up to have it ready for my return.
One day towards the end of the cruise, I tossed a pair of water shoes into the trash. They were too big and I had no intentions of bringing them back home with me. The cabin steward made sure to ask me about them before discarding them -- just to make sure I really wanted them thrown out.
I also got a nice collection of towel animals. I apologized to the cabin steward at one point, because I was "butchering" his creations. He would put them on the bed, and then when I would move them over to the couch, often they would fall apart. I asked him to make me a couple of hanging monkeys that I wouldn't have to disturb. He made me one and it remained there for the rest of the cruise, later to be joined by an elaborate dog. I put cigarettes in both of their mouths and declared them smokers! My cabin steward was tickled and even asked if we needed another ashtray.
Bars and Lounges Perhaps drink revenue was off this cruise, but about midway through it HAL started something new -- Happy Hours. During Happy Hour you could get two cocktails for the price of one. But, there was a small catch. First, you couldn't use a "Signature Cocktail Card" to purchase your cocktail. You had to pay full price. Also, both cocktails had to be identical. Some people had a problem with this, but it worked fine for me. For $7.32 I got two tropical cable cars. I don't think that's too bad of a deal, so I got to the point that I pretty much went to Happy Hour in the Ocean Bar everyday.
Happy Hour would generally be from 4:00 to 5:00 p.m. in the Ocean Bar and then from 9:00 to 10:00 p.m. in the Crow's Nest. Later on, they added a Non-Smoking Happy Hour, I believe from 6:00 to 7:00 in the Piano Bar. I generally restricted myself to the Ocean Bar's Happy Hour, and I will say if the purpose was to stimulate bar receipts, the strategy was working. The Ocean Bar would be packed from 4:00 to 5:00, only to empty out again after 5:00. Of course, it would get crowded again later on in the evening as people returned from dinner.
We also noted that different bars made the same drinks differently. For example, a tropical cable car served out by the pool was not the same as one purchased at the Ocean Bar. Also, the Crow's Nest's version of the same drink would be different from that of the Ocean Bar. But since all versions were good, this inconsistency didn't bother me at all.
There was generally dancing every evening in the Ocean Bar, as well as the other watering holes around the ship, and the social hosts would divide their time between all the venues, often splitting off so to cover them all.
Unlike on land, you don't have to drink alcohol to enjoy your time spent in the bars and lounges. We had a whole group in the Ocean Bar called the "breakfast club" that met up just to read or talk, and maybe drink a soda or a glass of water. If a server was on duty, he'd be more than happy just to get you a glass with ice water or even just ice if you brought your own brand of soda from your cabin.
Fellow Passengers This cruise was rather unusual in the fact that it was actually two cruises combined into one. When we boarded in Vancouver we had some people onboard who were still on from the last Alaska cruise of the season, and who were only doing the five-day coastal, but not continuing onto Hawaii. We had others who had boarded in Vancouver and were only staying on until either San Francisco or San Diego. Then we had the last group -- people like me who boarded in Vancouver for the coastal and the 30-day Hawaii/South Pacific.
During the first five days of the cruise, there was a younger passenger complement onboard. There were some families with some kids. But when we hit San Francisco, we lost some of them and took more Hawaii/South Pacific passengers on. When we got to San Diego, we lost still more and got more Hawaii/South Pacific passengers. When we left San Diego in route to Hawaii, our passenger complement was a bit older, with many using canes and walkers, and some even in wheelchairs or power chairs. But that doesn't mean they were dead. They were looking to have a good time too and most of the people I talked to were downright fun regardless of their age.
As for children, once we left on the Hawaii/South Pacific leg of our trip, we had one "tween" who was traveling with his parents, and two toddlers. One of the toddlers was the son of the onboard doctor, and he was very carefully supervised by his parents, and no trouble at all. The other toddler was a passenger's little girl. It was with this little girl -- or more accurately her parents -- that we had issues. The parents took the child into all venues of the ship, including the Ocean Bar and even sometimes the casino. They also would not supervise her too closely, letting her run free. She was on the dance floor in the Ocean Bar and climbing onto chairs. Only after she had "played" for a while might mommy or daddy come and get her. This could be very annoying. One night she saw the power chair of a woman who always sat at the bar and decided she'd like to climb in it. She spent a good five minutes climbing into that chair while mommy and daddy were busy talking with friends. The woman who owned it had her back toward her and also didn't notice her at first. In fact, the woman at the bar actually noticed the child, by that point sitting comfortably in the power chair, long before mom did -- and that's a disgrace.
The child was also creating a hazard on the dance floor since people could easily trip over her. When dad was chastised about this by Trisha, who almost tripped over the child and told him that the child should only be on the dance floor if she was in his arms, he didn't seem too concerned and the child was subsequently seen again on the dance floor unsupervised.
When dad was also told by Trisha that his child shouldn't be in the casino, he basically told her that he and the child could be anywhere on the ship that they wish. I have no problem with this, as long as the child is being closely supervised. Unfortunately, she was not. When Trisha talked to dad in the casino, it was because the little darling was bothering her while she was trying to play the slots.
I was a bit disappointed that staff didn't say anything to mom or dad, either in the Ocean Bar or in the casino, but apparently they declined to do so. It may be due to some sort of a HAL policy regarding welcoming children, but I think when one is clearly in areas where they shouldn't be, something should be said. I wonder how HAL would have felt if a passenger tripped over that child while she was cavorting on the dance floor and broken a hip?
Ports I won't cover too much about the ports in this review because we all have our favorite ways of spending port time, and mine don't necessarily jive with everyone else's.
I'll just give a quick rundown of each port and what I did. Most of the shore excursions that I took were HAL excursions. I realize I pay more when I book excursions through the cruise line, but I travel solo and just feel more comfortable letting HAL make all the arrangements, and assume responsibility for my getting back to the ship on time. I also don't like venturing out on my own.
Victoria, B.C.: Did a self-guided tour of Butchart Gardens. Loved it. We also had a short city tour by bus before arriving at the Gardens and on the way back home. On this excursion, we were late getting back to the ship due to traffic and I was glad I was on a HAL excursion. There was a bike race going on, plus the Canadian Air Force's Snowbirds were in town, so traffic was a mess. The captain wound up holding the ship in port for an extra hour or so anyway so that passengers could watch the air show from the outside decks. Awesome stuff, aerial aerobatics -- especially when done in formation!
San Francisco: Didn't do anything in this port. I waited for my friends, Trisha and Virgil, to board so that we could have a reunion. We hadn't seen each other since January of 2006, so the reunion was sweet.
San Diego: A group of us wandered over to Anthony's for some of their awesome seafood offerings. I had a bowl of their famous New England Clam Chowder in a Bread Bowl. Delicious!
Hilo: Went to Akaka Falls. Lots of steps, but took it slow. We also visited the Tsusami Museum as well. Nice day.
Kona: Found a new "thrill" -- helicopter flightseeing. Awesome flight lasting over two hours. Went all over the island, including back to Hilo. Viewed lava flows and steam from the volcano. Also saw amazing waterfalls that make Akaka Falls look like child's play. This was a great flight with Blue Hawaii Helicopters with a very informative and funloving pilot. Would do this again in a heartbeat despite the steep price tag of over $500.
Maui: Didn't do much here. There were no shore excursions that appealed to me, so I didn't book any. Virgil, Trisha and I just walked through Lahiana poking in and out of the shops. We then had lunch at Cheeseburger in Paradise. After Virgil and Trisha went back to the ship (they were going back out for dinner later), I continued my walking along Front Street snapping off dozens of photographs of the waterfront before I too went back to the ship.
Honolulu (Overnight): On the first day I took a Military Base VIP Tour. This was kind of neat in that we had a WWII docent in the van with us. First we went to Pearl Harbor and the Arizona Memorial. Then we visited several military based that had played a large role in the events of that era. All along the way, we were regaled with stories about what went on in that time, including lots of little known background information and personality profiles of the key players. We also had lunch on one of the bases at the officer's mess. This place is only open to military officers and retired military officers and their families. Since our docent was ex-military, we were able to get in.
After a full day on this military VIP tour, we arrived back at the ship. I then decided to venture back out to see if I could find Dog the Bounty Hunter's place of business. Who knows? Maybe he'll be there. No such luck. I got to his bail bonds place at around 5:30, after a considerable walk. It was closed. His "Dog House" tee-shirt and souvenir shop was right around the corner, but that too had closed at 5:00. I couldn't believe it. A store closing at 5:00 p.m.?
Our second day in Honolulu I took a "Little Circle Island" tour. I had taken the full Circle Island Tour on my last trip to Hawaii, so I figured this would be a good one for this time around. We were scheduled to be in Honolulu until 5:00 p.m., so with this tour, I still should have plenty of time to venture back to the "Dog's Place" before sailaway time.
During our Little Circle Island Tour we viewed several areas on the island, including Hanoma Bay and the Blow Hole, as well as several areas of the city, including Chinatown. I enjoyed the tour more for the bus ride and the scenary we were enjoying. At the end of the tour, I asked our driver if I could get off near "The Dog's Place" so that I wouldn't have to walk that long way both back and forth. He kindly obliged me.
I went to "The Dog House" and met one of the sons, Travis. He was very friendly and gladly posed for some pictures with me. He showed me a remote control helicopter that he was building that was going to be used in the filming of the next season of the show. He even let me take a photo of that. It's small but can hold a lightweight camera that will take some aerial shots for the show. I bought a bunch of teeshirts and also posed with a lifesized cardboard cutout of "The Dog" himself. I know this all may sound stupid, but I love that show and I love "The Dog."
I did a bit of shopping on the walk back to the ship, and got back onboard about an hour before sailaway. I had a great time in Honolulu and was glad that we had two days to spend there. One seems hardly enough.
Kauai: I was supposed to take this new tour here, a Movie Experience Tour. With this tour you supposedly travel in a luxury van with video screens inside. As bits and pieces of different movies play on the screens, you are driven to the location where that particular movie was filmed. It seemed like a neat tour, but apparently only myself and one other person signed up for it, so HAL cancelled it. Instead, since I had enjoyed my helicopter tour in Kona so much, I decided to do another, shorter one of them. This one only costs a little over $200 -- not much more than I had already shelled out for the movie tour.
I went with Island Helicopters and we had a blast. This pilot was a bit more "extreme" than the other one and when we flew into the dormant volcano, he got us right up close to the walls. It was awesome! I remember thinking, "there's a wall pretty close here -- lord, I hope this pilot knows what he's doing!" The flight was much shorter than the first one -- only about an hour, as opposed to two, but it was probably the better of the two flights because of the semi-extreme nature of the ride.
When the helicopter tour was over, and we were back at the ship, I met up with Trisha and Virgil for a Walmart run. We both needed some stuff and since we would soon be at sea for five days heading to the South Pacific, now seemed the best time to get it. Besides, there's a McDonald's inside the Walmart here, and we were all hungering for a Big Mac.
After doing some shopping and enjoying some lunch, we walked around a bit and were soon back onboard the Statendam.
Raiatea, F.P.: Took a comfortable bus tour at this port. I had made the mistake last time I was here of taking an "open air" bus tour and never again! The buses used for that tour were the same ones used to transport the kids to school each day. The seats were hard wooden bench seats and the bus had no speaker system. Our guide had given very little commentary and what little he did have to say, we couldn't hear. The bus was hot with only the windows open for ventilation and my back was killing me by the end of the tour from sitting on those seats. So, this time around, I specifically looked for something that said "confortable air conditioned bus transportation." This tour fit the bill. It was called Raiatea Highlights and it gave us a good overview of the island. The island is not that big, so a half day tour will pretty much cover the highlights quite well. The only thing I didn't care for with this tour was that our tour guide, while very nice, also worked for a pearl farm during the week. She oh, so very helpfully, offered to hand out brochures for her employer when someone admired the pearl jewelry she was wearing. "Just say you met Summer," she told everyone, "and you'll get a discount." She also told everyone that her employer had a store right at the area where the ship docked. I'd be willing to bet that if someone walked in there and said they met Autumn, they'd still get the same discount.
But, the tour was a good one, and the tour guide, Summer, very knowledgable and helpful, so I let the hawking of her employer's pearls go.
Bora Bora: We had two days here as well. Water sports are the order of the day in these islands and I did a Shark and Ray Feeding one day, and the Looganarium the other. Both of these tours were wonderful, and I got lots and lots of underwater photographs. Now I just have to figure out where to get them developed since apparently most photo shops no longer develop film.
Without a doubt, Bora Bora (along with Moorea) is one of the most beautiful places on Earth.
Papeete, Tahiti: Papeete is a city just like any other large city. To really see the area, you have to get out of the city, such as on a snorkeling type tour. The tour I took here, however, involved a deep water and a shallow water snorkel. The deep water one was difficult because there was a pretty strong current and I was not wearing flippers so had no way to counteract it. I was not the only person having problems. The poor guide ended up jumping in to retrieve several of us who were floating out to sea.
After our snorkel, since we were remaining in Papeete until 5:00 a.m. the next morning, we went to the Grand Marsch or Market. Here they sell all manner of stuff, from souvenirs to food, and everything in between. Beware, though, the prices in French Polynesia and Tahiti are very, very expensive. I bought very little once I left Hawaii.
Moorea: This is probably the most beautiful of the South Pacific islands. This was also the only island where I did two shore excursions. First I did a photography tour. This tour had several stops that were particularly photogenic and a professional photographer acted as our guide with the idea that he would give us tips and pointers to help us take great photographs. He earned his money within the first five minutes at the first stop. He found that my camera settings were wrong. The ISO was way too high and that's why a lot of my photos thus far were appearing washed out. Too much light was getting to the lens. After setting it to the lowest setting, all photos I took from that point on came out much nicer. I only wish I hadn't discovered this problem until near the end of the cruise. But I guess that just means I'll have to do this cruise again at some point in order to retake all the fouled up photos!
The other problem I had with this tour was its rating. It was rated as two men walking, but with the second photo stop, I could see that rating was far understated. We did a "nature hike" in order to get to the Belvadere Lookout, our second photo stop. Since only one person stayed behind, and I was assured the hike wasn't too strenuous, I decided to go along. What a major mistake! It wasn't until I was too far into it that I realize there was no way I could do this with my "compromised" legs. I had suffered a serious injury to both of my legs in 1999, and strenuous hikes are just not something I can easily do any longer. The guide had to really help me along to get me through it, and I was so sorry I put him, not to mention my fellow passengers through that. That hike involved walking on an uneven path, strewn with tree branches and roots. I really think that the tour should have been labeled as strenuous, or at least a notation should have been provided that there is one photo stop that involves a strenuous hike. But the guide gave me the help I needed to get through it, and my fellow passengers were understanding about my difficulties.
The rest of the photo tour went without incident and I did get a lot of great photos as a result. Some of the flowers were breathtakingly beautiful in every imaginable color. We stopped at an orchard farm where they were harvesting some of the flowers, and taking photos of some of them that were sitting in the back of a farm truck was a joy. We also photographed a pineapple plantation and some other assorted nature, and we learned some tricks to take neatly laid out photos. Overall, the strenuous hike aside, this was one of the best tours I took on this cruise, and I would do it again were I to find myself in Moorea at some point in the future. I just would have more sense than to attempt to trek to Belevedere Lookout the next time.
The second tour I took was a much more relaxing one. It was a ride on a 42-foot catamaran for snorkeling and sailing. When we got out to sea, the crew unfurled the sails and we let the wind be our propulsion. It was awesome sitting there under the sails. Some people sat in nets at the top of the craft, while others enjoyed the view from the deck. There was also an inside salon where people could go if they wanted to get out of the sun. Our captain was an experienced sailor who knew just how to ride the waves to give us an exciting, though not overly rocky ride. After sailing for a while, we dropped anchor for snorkeling. Again, however, the current was a bit rough, though on this boat they did provide fins in addition to snorkels and masks.
After everyone was back on the boat from their snorkel, we enjoyed mai tais and other alcoholic beverages as our crew gave us a tour of the area. It was a great way to cap off a wonderful day in Moorea, and the end of our stay in French Polynesia.
Nuku Hiva: Nuku Hiva to me represents one of the few places in the South Pacific where modern tourism hasn't affected the locals' way of life. The island is part of the Marquesas chain and there are only about 1600 people living on Nuku Hiva. Most of them are locals. The island is so out of the way that Holland America doesn't even offer a shore excursion program there. They don't visit it enough on their sailings to make such a program a worthwhile undertaking.
The last time I was here, I didn't even get off the ship. There really is nothing to do here if you don't take a tour, and finding a local guide could be difficult, especially if suite passengers took advantage of their priority tendering and grabbed up what few tour guides were available. There really isn't much you can see or do within walking distance of the pier, and without a vehicle of some sort, you're not getting very far up the mountain. So, this time around someone in our group organized a group tour with an operator by the name of Claude. We set out in a convoy of comfortable four-wheel drive vehicles for a tour that pretty much covered the whole island. We went all the way up the mountain (the whole island is comprised of this mountain, which is actually volcanic in nature). We saw various communities seemingly untouched by modern civilization. People just had their horses grazing at the side of the road. Clearly there's no crime or vandalism here. We saw amazing species of plants and wild chickens and roosters. When the ship anchors out in the harbor, you can look way up at the highest point of the mountain peak and see an antenna perched there. We actually drove right up to where this antenna was, and saw that it was actually a complex of antennas and satellite dishes providing communications to the whole island.
We also stopped for lunch at what was pretty much the only restaurant on the island, and we were served a variety of cooked seafood and refreshing fruits. Sparkling water was provided as well. At the end of the meal we were asked if we wanted coffee. Most of us accepted. That cup of coffee was one of the most delicious I have ever had. It was laced with cocoa and had a distinctly chocolate flavor. But this coffee proved to be the only "issue" I (and many of my fellow passengers on the tour) had with this tour. As we were getting ready to leave the restaurant, we were informed that there was an additional $3.00 charge for the coffee. It was not included in the meal. Well, that's a rotten trick -- to offer us coffee, but not tell us there was an additional charge for it. Personally, I think Claude should have stepped up to the plate and worked this out with the restaurant. Either they eliminate the charge or he picks it up. It really wasn't fair to ask us to pay for it, especially after we had each paid $130 for the tour. Some people didn't even have money on them since they only brought enough along to pay Claude's charges.
In the end, we worked out the coffee debacle by some people covering others' tabs until we got back to the ship, but it still leaves a bad taste in my mouth when charges of this type -- regardless of how seemingly little they may be -- are not explained ahead of time. When bar items were offered at the beginning of the meal, it was kind of obvious there would be an extra charge for them, and those that partook were more than willing to pay those charges. But no one would automatically assume that coffee incurred an extra charge as well. This was the one and only thing that slightly marred the tour for me.
After lunch we drove some more along the mountain, eventually winding up at sea level and at a beautiful marae. Stone carvings here faced the sea, where at other stops they faced the community where the natives lived. There were almost an unlimited choice of photo ops on this tour -- from beautiful flowers of all colors -- to the most detailed stone carvings of all sizes and shapes.
Special Events We had a Mariner Awards Ceremony and Brunch on this cruise. They had to break it up over three days since just about everyone onboard was a Mariner, and many were receiving either pins or medallions. The medallions were awarded one day, with the pins spread over the next two. There was then a special brunch held in the dining room. The brunch had a very small selection of entrees -- nothing that anyone choosing to dine in the dining room that day couldn't have probably gotten -- but it was still a nice affair and I was glad to be invited to it. I got my 100 day medalion on this trip, while Trish and Virgil were awarded their 300 day medalions.
I was also honored to be invited to the Captain's VIP Party on this sailing. I don't always get invited to this since I stay in rather run-of-the-mill accommodations, making it a toss up cruise to cruise as to whether I'll be on the invite list, but on this cruise I was. It was great getting to meet and mingle with the officers and learn a little about their jobs. The free cocktails and superior appetizers make it a great event too!
Trisha, Virgil and I were also gifted with an invitation for a private bridge tour -- something I've asked for several times before, but had not yet gotten. Captain Jack was gracious enough to extend an invitation to visit the bridge and we were only too happy to finally get a chance to get up there. We took tons of photos and even had a chance to pose at the wheel of the ship (while it was on auto-pilot, of course).
As noted elsewhere in this report, we were also invited to a special Pinnacle Grill Dinner by Theo Haanen and his wife, Helen, as well as the Culinary Manager, Frank, and his wife Maggie. It was while at this dinner that I learned that Helen was writing a book and had a whole cast of "cuddly characters" in her cabin that were the subject of the book. Later in the cruise I was treated to the opportunity to read the first chapter of her book, and I found it amazing. It's a tale that will captivate the hearts of children of all ages, and I have no doubt she will one day be a noted children's author with a huge fan base.
The evening of our dinner started off with cocktails in the Ocean Bar, followed by dinner in the Pinnacle. Everything about the dinner was absolutely perfect, and afterwards we adjourned to the Crow's Nest for after dinner drinks and the "Sailor's Ball." It was a magical and wonderful night and an invitation I really appreciated receiving.
Disembarkation All good things must come to an end, and this cruise was no exception. I was sorry to see it end, but real life was beckoning. Disembarkation was slightly delayed by Customs processes. People who were not residents of the U.S. had to present themselves in one of the lounges to Customs officials, and I guess this process took longer than usual. However, it was only about 45 minutes later than originally projected that they started calling for the self-assist passengers to disembark, followed by the first group of regular passengers. I was in the second group, Orange 1, and was off the ship next. By about 9:30 I was in a cab and headed to the airport, not wanting to wait for the Holland America shuttle at that point, despite having paid for it. I just wanted to make my flight and the relatively small price I would have to pay for a cab to ensure that was well worth it in my opinion. I made my 11:31 a.m. flight with time to spare.
Conclusion I am somewhat biased in that I love this particular itinerary. I am also biased in that I love Holland America and the product they provide. Yes, I have sailed other cruise lines and enjoyed those cruises as well, but there is just something about a Holland America cruise that makes me feel like I am coming home when I board one of their ships. I guess it's a combination of things -- the nice, well-appointed ships, the mix of fellow passengers usually found on them, the high level of service -- all those things combine to make a Holland America cruise special for me. Now, I should also say that I generally stay away from the large HAL ships, and I also now stay away from the short cruises. So I am getting a different sort of environment when I sail and not the same one that someone, say, who does a seven-day Caribbean sailing on a Vista class ship would have.
But I am fortunate in that I know what it takes to please me, and I know that when I book this type of cruise, on the size of ship that I like, and with the cruise line that I am most comfortable with, I will have a great experience and one that I will want to repeat again and again.
If you like the same things that I do, then you might want to consider this itinerary in your future plans. It's a wonderful length, with an almost perfect mix of sea days and ports. It's also a cruise that will provide for the time to get to know your fellow passengers and the crew, with enough time to let you really relax and enjoy your vacation. Since the ports are "clustered" into groups, with clumps of sea days in between, it allows you the time to relax and wind down after spending five or six days in port running around and seeing the sights. It also allows for a full six sea days at the end while you head back to San Diego for disembarkation -- ensuring that you will be well rested before heading home and back to your "normal" daily life.
The only word of caution I can give you about this sailing is don't attempt it if you don't enjoy sea days, because you will be miserable. There are something like 18 sea days on this cruise, far more than probably any other cruise of its length.
Wherever you may choose to sail on your next cruise, and on whatever cruise line's ship, I wish you blue skies and a following sea.