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Maasdam MTL to FTL: My review, anecdotes, survey comments, silly minutiae...


fishywood
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I know I may have lost a little timeliness, but I just realized that the review I submitted for Maasdam ten days ago has yet to be posted. In fact, only two reviews for the entire HAL fleet have appeared in that time. In the interim I have come up with some additional comments more suited for this board; I will post those shortly, but here is the original made-for-general audience review:

 

A little quick background: I am always looking for a last-minute solo sailing in between the ones planned with family or friends. When I couldn’t work out making one of the last Alaska sailings of the season I turned to the Canada-to-Florida repositioning cruises (only one flight does make it easier). Was expecting to sail later in October but when the price of the inside guarantee on Maasdam from Montreal on October 5 was enhanced to include “free upgrade to oceanview” I was hooked—eight days before sailing! A family commitment on the 4th left me no choice but to find a flight to Montreal the morning of sailing; yes, I knew that I was breaking the unwritten cardinal rule to fly in at least one day early—but as I already broke the alleged rule to book early for best cabin selection, and the worst case scenario would have me meeting the ship in Quebec City the next morning, so what? My day thus began on a 5:45 AM flight from FLL to YUL with a change in (where else) ATL. And did I mention that First Class was the only fare available? But here’s a secret: if you add in the cost of checking your bags, pre-selecting your seats ($25 per flight leg for a “comfort seat” in coach—really, Delta?), the serving of something slightly more edible than the “food for sale” plus unlimited libations, the price difference on most domestic flights is actually quite reasonable. So now reporting from onboard:

 

Stateroom: My “included upgrade” found me in a Category DD on Lower Promenade deck, a partially obstructed oceanview nestled among the Lanai cabins opening to the outside promenade. Since this was hardly a tropical cruise, those outside doors and the adjoining reserved loungers got virtually no use. As the Maasdam is an “older” ship with mostly inside or oceanview cabins, the lanais and balconies are at a premium—one I don’t consider worth jockeying (or paying) for. Another tip: booking a Category DD or HH adjoining cabin will net you an impromptu sitting area if you don’t plan to use the door to the adjoining cabin—a sofa is placed across it! Like most cabins on the 90s-era Maasdam, mine included a full bathtub rather than a tiny shower stall and lacked a refrigerator. But my ice bucket was refilled twice daily—and the shower head inside the tub was the much sought-after handheld type. The tub contained dispensers of liquid body wash, shampoo and conditioner, though there was still bar soap provided at the sink.

 

Dining: After having dinner at the poolside BBQ on embarkation day and trying my luck with open seating dining the second night, the following morning I requested to be moved to the 8 PM seating. An hour later there was a voicemail on my cabin telephone advising me that it had been done. Smartest move I made on this cruise: having every-night servers who quickly learn your preferences, as well as a wonderful group of new tablemates, is the only way to dine. Menus are hardly what one would call adventurous, but all courses were attractively presented and just the right portion size. All of the dining room staff—our waiter, assistant waiter, wine steward, head waiter, and the dining room manager who stopped by nearly every night—set exactly the right tone of service for whatever we needed each night. So while you really can’t call a restaurant that serves 1200 dinners in two sittings each night “fine dining” I would say that dinner every night on the Maasdam proved to be perfectly “just fine” for me.

The Lido really shows its age through its vintage 90s cafeteria layout. But it functions as individual stations rather than one snaking lineup, and handles the crowds at peak breakfast time very well. I had breakfast in the dining room three times, but for the first time I can remember I ended up preferring the Lido. Could be due to the first morning I tried the dining room I was seated at a table for eight which included three ladies seeming bent on topping each other in a most-complicated-breakfast-order-of-all-time contest. (Seriously, one of these ladies spent more time haranguing the waiter over whether the French toast is sprinkled with cinnamon vs. cinnamon sugar than it took for me to have an omelet cooked to order in the Lido the next day).

 

Activities and Entertainment: As this was a 13 night cruise that opened with eight port days in a row, I really did not pay much attention to the daytime activities. Most of my free time was spent relaxing in the spa thermal suite, which I purchased a full cruise pass for. It was almost always deserted (most days I received no higher than locker #4) so I wonder how many of the designated spa cabins were occupied, or if the occupants actually knew about the included perks. Anyway I was more than content to be steaming or soaking in solitude rather than watch cooking classes or port lectures. In the evening I enjoyed the jazz combo in Ocean Bar and the classical duo in Explorers. The “HAL Cats” house band was very deft at alternately serving as the show band, dance band and party band. But even the best musicians can’t be in two places at once, so the nights that they were required to play the Showroom there was no live music in the Crow’s Nest. The troupe of 4 male singers, 2 female singers and 2 female dancers were typical of those found onboard. But even the best of Broadway and the West End could not have overcome the painfully unfunny jokes and the trite song selection and bland arrangements of the production shows. And while I know it is difficult to arrange the guest entertainers for an open-jaw repositioning cruise, the two comedians who joined us the second week should be bottled and marketed as cures for insomnia.

 

Ports and Excursions: I’ll get right to the point here. All of you who will only sail the newest and largest ships need to get over how “old” and “small” the Maasdam and much of the rest of the HAL fleet is and book one of their cruises pronto. Out-of-the-way, less crowded ports; smooth as silk tender operations; no Disney World-style queues to snake through for security before reboarding. I did take ship excursions in four of the nine ports, but in almost every stop the ships docked at or tendered to the center of town with plenty of sites within walking distance. The one disadvantage to my chronic last-minute travels is that with a little more time I could have planned even more to see on my own at each port. Fall Canada/New England cruises have the reputation of being a bit pricey and more than a bit crowded in port. I consider this Maasdam cruise to have been a great value: perfect size ship, great mix of unfamiliar and popular ports—the only real crowd was at Bar Harbor where we stopped on Sunday of Columbus Day weekend. (Oh yeah, the Emerald Princess was also there that day).

 

But the reason I am absolutely sure I will sail HAL again very soon is the wonderful atmosphere fostered by the crew—and I mean all the crew, from the officers down to the cleaners and maintenance. Always a friendly greeting, continuously offering to help without ever seeming patronizing—and from the second encounter and onward with you, they remember your name and your preferences. And even a sworn cynic like me noticed how all that genuine good will imbued my fellow passengers as well. They weren’t the “luxury” crowd, the “active” crowd or the “party” crowd—nor were they the “nursing home” crowd that is the unfair portrait of a typical HAL cruise—just lots of nice people who were all happy to be onboard. And I can’t wait to be back with them.

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Great review. So happy you enjoyed Maasdam and her wonderful crew as much as we do.

I've said for ages I think HAL's Canada/NE cruises are among their very best short cruises.

 

Thanks for sharing with us. :)

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Most of my free time was spent relaxing in the spa thermal suite, which I purchased a full cruise pass for. It was almost always deserted (most days I received no higher than locker #4) so I wonder how many of the designated spa cabins were occupied, or if the occupants actually knew about the included perks.

 

Just got off the Nieuw Amsterdam and was assigned a SPA veranda cabin. There are no SPA amenities associated with a SPA cabin even though HAL would like folks to think so.

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Was Anja part of the group of people that came by your table in the dining room every night? She almost always has pearl earrings on. Very, very nice woman. She used to be on the Noordam. I will miss her if we ever go on the Noordam again. (We want to try the rest of the fleet.)

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The troupe of 4 male singers, 2 female singers and 2 female dancers were typical of those found onboard.
I hate that HAL has cut back so drastically on the production shows. I used to enjoy going to them. Now I go because DH likes to.
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Wow, thank you for all the responses. I can assure you that I didn't post this trolling for praise, just wondering why it didn't make the cut for the dedicated review section of Cruise Critic. But since I promised some additional thoughts, I hope it is not too irregular to share what I wrote on the e-mail survey after the cruise. (I did not respond to every opportunity to comment).

 

Please share any additional comments about our staff and accommodations.

 

Front desk staff outstanding. Officers I had occasion to speak with regarding a service issue were completely responsive and helpful.

 

Please feel free to share anything else about your overall dining experience.

 

Some upgrade of the food available from 14.00 to 17.30 would be appreciated. The "taco bar" and pizza slices sitting out on the open deck are well below your otherwise excellent standards.

 

The sailaway/happy hour snacks were overhyped and lacked both sufficient quality and quantity.

 

Service during afternoon tea could be scattershot. Very surprised to have an officer admit that if one was not at the door when it opens at 15.00 one should not expect the same service as if one was. More days with buffet-style service as done on Royal Dutch Tea afternoon would be better.

 

But it must be said that late sitting dinner was one of the best dining experiences I have had on a cruise in many years: steward, assistant and wine steward all outstanding.

 

Please feel free to share anything else about our entertainment.

 

Cast of singers and dancers were all individually talented but had ZERO chemistry in the shows where they interacted with each other. Much additional rehearsal and/or retooling of scripts is necessary.

 

Which members of the Holland America Line team would you like to acknowledge?

 

My dining room team, 20.00 seating: waiter Adi, asst waiter Youda, wine steward Romeo--all superb.

Pinnacle Grill server Dwi--absolutely lovely.

Bar server Lindley--one of many who quickly learned my name and preferences, I wish I had gotten more names

 

Please feel free to share anything else about your experience with Holland America Line.

 

Unfortunately the "Walk for the Cause" was poorly run. Despite repeated requests that it be a "non-competitive" walk it turned out otherwise. Some participants lapped the front of the pack THREE TIMES and the casual walkers four! Yet when those aggressive walkers reached the proscribed ten laps the event was declared over by the crew member keeping track (I believe it was the showhost). You did a great disservice to those of us giving their time and money to the cause by not acknowledging those who stayed out there to complete all ten laps, no matter what their pace.

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....and a few final random thoughts:

 

• Firstly, despite significant day-to-day changes in the weather throughout the cruise the temperature of public areas was always comfortable. If my cabin was a bit warm or cool just a tiny adjustment of the thermostat made the right difference. The overhead heating units at the tender launch platform were much appreciated in Gaspe and Bar Harbor.

• I had heard how popular room service breakfast was on HAL with the resulting tendency for delivery at or near the end of the selected time window. So the morning of my 8:15 tour I opted for delivery between 6:30-7:00 knowing that if I chose 7:00-7:30 and it arrived at 7:25 I would be eating and running. So of course the knock on my door came at 6:20. Everything was exactly as requested—yet I still wonder how with such an exhaustive menu, why no hot cereal?

• Even after the two day ban on self-serve ended in the Lido, they were still setting out trays of glasses filled with ice tea, ice water, and no-ice water at the beverage stations in lieu of us dispensing our own. Was fine with me. At lunch and dinner in the Lido there was a whole platoon of stewards offering to carry dishes and refill drinks. Lovely—but why not at breakfast, the meal with the most plate juggling and all-hot beverages to boot.

• As I said in my review, I was easily able to switch to the 8:00 dinner seating from anytime, which I had been told (1) was the only option available when I booked; and (2) that this particular sailing was not maintaining a wait list for either sitting. Yet the upper level of the dining room was nowhere near half full every evening; you could have staged a nightly Ultimate Frisbee tournament without disturbing the diners.

• I had lunch at Pinnacle Grill twice; the bread basket alone was worth the $10 charge. I just wish that they wouldn’t persist in the pretense that (at lunchtime anyways) reservations are so dear to come by. The room was well under half full both times, and on my first visit a group of four was allowed to walk in. Hardly seems worth firing up the galley for the handful of $10 chits, unless unlike me the resultant subsequent booking is for dinner. Despite my intentions I never got to Canaletto (still with “old” menu as of then) but some of my tablemates did and were raving about it the next night.

• One last dining thought: outside of the buffet and my wonderful Pinnacle Grill server, I did not see a single female head waiter, waiter or assistant waiter.

• The shore excursions department was one of the best run I have seen. The detailed tour booklet in the cabin was very helpful—except that neither I nor many others lined up at the tour desk the first day could figure out how to order; the form was indistinguishably buried in the middle of the book. Once explained I would put the form in the dropbox and the tickets would be in my cabin within hours. While at the desk I watched the manager put through a patience-of-Job moment trying to explain why the disembarkation day tours have different prices for those who already prepaid for airport transfers and those who haven’t to a poor clueless soul just blankly staring and asking the same question again and again. And bravo for having all tours (other than at tender ports) directly meet the buses shoreside rather than herd us like sheep into the showroom to wait for our number to be called.

• Despite some reviews to the contrary, I did not emerge from late-sitting dinner to find the sidewalks already rolled up for the evening—as I did on Celebrity last year, where by 10:30 the ship resembled the Mary Celeste. Even with an eight day string of early port days the late show was always after dinner, and there was plenty of live music after that; the piano bar entertainer would keep playing until the last person called it a night. Sadly, on the too-few nights the HAL Cats played late in the Crows Nest they barely drew flies. I blame this on the erratic scheduling due to having one band do triple duty as show band, party band and dance band.

• My Personal ‘First World Problem’ (seemingly the most common style of thread on this board:rolleyes:): No robe hooks in the Thermal Suite!

---I asked one of the spa employees what I was supposed to do with my robe while I went into the sauna or steam room. She said that there were no robe hooks as having them would result in (more) passengers bringing their personal items into the thermal suite rather than using the lockers. I thanked her for the answer without offering the obvious follow up question: what then does one do with the locker key? Unlike ships that have set-your-own-combination (just like the room safe) lockers you are issued a metal key for your assigned locker—which certainly cannot be taken inside the sauna! The end result was that I would leave my robe, with locker key in pocket, either folded up on the bench next to the hot tub, or lying across one of the five heated loungers (with images of chair-hogging dancing through my head). But the thermal suite was so little used as to make this a non-issue.

 

OK, bottom line still is that I had a brilliant time, rants are over….

 

…except for this: “Wajang Theater” or “Culinary Arts Center”? Just pick one name to use for every event scheduled in the room! :D

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Just got off the Nieuw Amsterdam and was assigned a SPA veranda cabin. There are no SPA amenities associated with a SPA cabin even though HAL would like folks to think so.

 

We had a spa cabin on the Maasdam once and received slippers, a spa mat (which was hidden under the bed), fresh fruit plate in the afternoon, and supposely a mini fountain which was out for repair (which was fine with us - who needs water bubbling!). I guess these "amenities" are no longer provided and yes there was no spa amenity which I think there should have been at least one free or reduced something.

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