Statendam Circle Hawaii Cruise 11/25/02 to 12/10/02 - San Diego/San Diego
A bit about us. The three of us, Mom, my sister Gail and I, try to cruise together at least once a year. We sailed on the Zaandam last year and made many wonderful friends among the crew, including an officer and his wife (Bob and Jan). We kept in touch through email and when I wrote to let them know we were sailing on the Statendam to Hawaii and how disappointed we were that we weren't sailing with them on the Zaandam again, I received a reply that they were on the Statendam, and couldn't wait to see us!
Precruise We flew to San Diego a couple of days early and stayed at the U.S. Grant for a great rate we got on- line. It was a wonderful place to stay, and the service was beyond belief. As Wyndham by Request members we were upgraded to a Petite Suite. What a way to start a vacation! We had a so-so dinner the first night in the Gaslamp area; our favorite restaurant had changed in the three years since we'd eaten there. The next night the hotel was gracious enough to provide transportation for us to The Old Town Mexican Cafe - what a great dinner. They have the best handmade tortillas I've ever eaten!! On advice from a CruiseCritic board member who lives in San Diego we sought out the Bistro St. Tropez for breakfast on Sunday and it was so good we dashed over Monday morning for croissants to go with our coffee as we re-packed and got ready to head to the ship. (Thanks Cauvet!)
Embarkation/First Night Aboard I think we left for the ship around 12:00 - 12:30 and once again the hotel provided a van to take us to the pier. Embarkation was fairly quick and easy. There was a guy in front of us berating the desk agent because he hadn't been told they had to fill out the embarkation form that came in his HAL packet, arguing that "someone should have called us and told us." Unfortunately we would run into this "delightful" person several times during our cruise. When it was our turn to check in we were informed that we had been moved from Suite 30 (which we had specifically selected) to 28. Strange (but an explanation is forthcoming). We didn't have to wait long before they started boarding and we were escorted to our cabin. We had upgraded from a mini-suite to a suite several months earlier as a surprise for mom, and keeping that secret had been next to unbearable. She was thrilled when the attendant opened the door to our suite. The complimentary bottle of champagne was there on ice, along with a large basket of fruit and an invitation to a cocktail reception that evening in the Neptune Lounge. We found our table seating card and noted that we were at a table for 10 instead of a table for 8 as we'd requested. We thought maybe our TA had made a mistake, but we were in for fun-filled surprise.
We went up to the Lido for a bite of lunch, checked out our new home for the next 15 days and went back to the room to find that part of our luggage had already arrived. Our room steward met us in the hallway and introduced himself as "Jay - as in Toronto Blue" (it took me a couple of minutes to make the connection - Toronto Blue Jays - got it). We attended the lifeboat drill, where Mr. "delightful" arrived smoking a cigar with drink in hand. We then went to find Jan and went to the Navigation deck for sailaway. We immediately recognized our wine steward, Maverick, from the Zaandam, and he informed us that there were quite a few crew members on board the Statendam who had been on the Zaandam with us, including one of our favorite lounge servers, Jimmy. We were to discover later that word went out among the crew quickly that we were anxious to find out where Jimmy was working and for several days they were checking with us to make sure we'd connected. It got rather chilly on deck so we returned to our cabin shortly after the ship pulled away from the pier and freshened up for the reception in the Neptune Lounge.
The new Neptune Lounge is a very comfortable room staffed by two of the nicest Concierges, Wenney and Sheryll. The hotel manager, Frits Gehner, introduced himself and explained that we had been moved from Suite 30 to Suite 28 as they had discovered that the pull out sofa in 30 was not in very good condition, and with three of us in the suite they knew the sofa bed would be used (mystery explained). One of those HAL touches that are unique and very much appreciated. If anyone has any suite/Neptune Lounge questions, I'll be happy to try and answer them.
Went to dinner the first night and there were two couples and a single guy at the table. The couples were really nice, but the single guy . . . . Gail had the misfortune of sitting beside him and she said she figured he last bathed and changed clothes sometime in 1999. During dinner, he would blow his nose in his napkin and then set it on the table at the top of his plate!!! I'm not sure how we made it through dinner, but as soon as we were done we made an appointment to see the headwaiter the next day, a first for us - we've never even thought of changing tables before. (During dinner the Captain announced that we had turned around and were returning to San Diego for a medical emergency.)
The Surprise When we went to change our table assignment we were informed that it would stay the same and that they would simply move our "special" dinner table companion. When we said that didn't seem fair and that we didn't mind moving, the headwaiter told us we "MUST remain at that table." Totally confused by now we said ok, and went to meet our friend Jan for lunch. When we relayed the story she burst out laughing and said they couldn't keep "the surprise" a secret any longer. When they found out we were going to be on board, they had gotten permission to have dinner at our table with us on formal nights (the only night officers can eat in the dining room). That's why the larger table and why we "must remain" at that table. So what started out to be a really crummy experience turned into a great time - the remaining tablemates were so much fun (hi, Jill, Ave, Pam and Frank) and we got to spend even more time with Bob and Jan.
Ok, at this rate this will turn into a novel so, rather than do a day-by day dissertation for fifteen days here's the short version. This was one of those de-stress and unwind vacations, so we really didn't do a whole lot. We had mostly cloudy skies for all but two of our 15 days which made it feel a little cooler than it actually was.
The Norwalk Virus precautions taken did make this cruise a little different; no shaking hands (at least not till the last couple of days), no salt/pepper shakers, no bread baskets, no taco bar (my favorite lunch) and everything, everywhere, was served to you.
We usually sign up for the slot tournaments on board (lots of fun and excitement) and this year Gail won one of the two slot tournaments. Watching her get handed $500 in cash was really fun, and the casino staff, especially Wayne, were great.
We snorkeled in Hilo and Lahina, and the Sea Adventure Snorkel tour we booked through the ship in Lahina was incredible. If anyone has ever wanted to learn to snorkel this is the place to do it. My mom had never snorkeled before and had the best experience ever. They took great care in selecting the proper equipment for everyone and/or making sure your equipment was ok. Once at the snorkel site they took a float board out and put your fins on you while you floated holding on to the board. Then, the novice snorkelers could hang on to it, till they were comfortable or for the duration of the snorkel if they wanted. One of the guides would point out the sea life and even dove down and brought a sea urchin up so those "sticking close" had a great experience. It was a two location snorkel and they told us that the second area, where the sea turtles were, was deeper and rougher and not to feel pressured to do it if you weren't comfortable. There were several who opted not to do the second snorkel, but snorkeling with the sea turtles was a once in a lifetime experience. I lost count of the number of turtles we saw.
Cruising down the Napali coastline was incredibly beautiful; we spent the afternoon on the veranda taking in the magnificent scenery and snapping pictures like crazy.
One of the highlights of the cruise was sailing past the lava flow at night. I expected it to be something to see but I really wasn't prepared for the sights that awaited us. The lava flow was truly spectacular as it poured into the ocean, causing huge clouds of steam and occasional firework-type lava showers. In fact, listening to the other passengers "ohh" and "ahhh" reminded me of being at Disneyland during their firework displays.
I don't remember what night it was, (perhaps the night we left Kona?) but we heard this very loud clanking/hammering noise that lasted for about 5 minutes. The next day we found out that the port side stabilizer had gone out. We had fairly calm seas on the return to San Diego so we really didn't feel any effects from it being out.
The Crew/Staff This had to be one of the greatest crews we've sailed with. With few exceptions (i.e., the tour desk, the cruise director, and our waiter) everyone went out of their way to make sure people were having a good time and were taken care of. The servers in the Lido on the port side were an absolute delight. They somehow found out our names and when all three of us didn't show up at the same time they'd ask "where's ***?" Or, if we were trying to eat light and didn't want any of the entrees the server would offer to fix us an egg, simply trying to find something he thought we'd like. The coffee server, Buddy, realized that Gail and I take a "little coffee with our cream" and had our coffee ready and fixed perfectly by the time we reached the end of the line every morning. We laughed that we hated missing breakfast because of the greetings and smiles (not to mention perfect coffee) that we'd miss.
I have to relay a couple of stories here that, to me, typify the HAL crew. We ordered appetizers delivered to our cabin one evening for a small get together. After the waiter delivered and set up our order he turned to Gail and I and said "Excuse me. I hope I do not offend you, but could you please tell me where you got your dresses? (It was Hawaiian casual night). I would love to get ones just like them for my mother." After being assured we weren't offended, he took out a pad and pen and wrote down all the details we could give him. Then, when a different waiter came to pick up the trays he looked at the remaining chicken wings, turned to Gail and said "Oh my, I thought you were a vegetarian." What makes this so amazing is that we had never seen this waiter before - we still can't figure out how he knew Gail was a vegetarian.
Our dining room waiter, however, was probably one of the worst we've had on a cruise. Our tablemates were so much fun that most of his ineptness (for lack of a better word) wasn't a problem.
Food/Misc. Lobster night was really the only major disappointment I had food-wise. Everyone who ordered lobster at our table got lobster that was very underdone. By the time our waiter returned no one was in the mood to try and return it, nor did he ever ask why no one had eaten more than one bite. All the other seafood I had was very good to excellent.
The separate vegetarian menu was not as large or varied as Gail remembered from the Zaandam and it contained very few pasta dishes. Gail really liked the spring rolls and ordered them almost nightly as her appetizer. There were several nights, however, that her appetizer wasn't delivered until entrees were served or the spring rolls included meat/seafood (despite ordering from the vegetarian menu the evening prior).
I still love the bread, cold soups, and fettuccini puntenesca (sp?) (although it now contains meat). If you love HAL's famous bread pudding try the chocolate bread pudding, it's even better! We missed having iced tea/lemonade served on the lido deck. I'm not sure if this wasn't done as part of the virus precautions or if HAL has discontinued this practice (sure hope it's the former not the latter, as that was always such a special treat).
We called down and ordered coffee (and sometimes croissants) from room service every morning, and it was always delivered within a few minutes (except for the last morning when room service took about 45 minutes) by a smiling, polite steward. The gentleman who took our order every morning was usually fun to talk with as he made suggestions on what he thought we should have with our coffee.
I love sailing on a ship where I'm not begged for excellent ratings (I absolutely hate that), or told who and how much to tip. With such great service everywhere tipping was a pleasure (but boy does it add up when you cruise for 15 days and there are so many who gave great service LOL). We did find out that tips in the various lounges are pooled between all the stewards. (As an aside, HAL is NOT a "no tipping" cruise line. Tips are not REQUIRED, i.e. automatically added to your bill, even for bar drinks, but they are certainly welcomed and should be extended for good service.) The HAL ambiance works well for us and we can't wait to book our next cruise (I'm hoping I see Half Moon Cay in our future). I'll be glad to try and answer any questions anyone may have. Happy sailing!