An Unexpected Cruise
We are addicted to cruising. This is our 15th cruise in less than four years and we have the Grand Princess booked for later this year. With God's grace, we hope to make many more. This is a lengthy review; we tried to be as thorough as possible so that the reader would have a very good idea of what it would be like to cruise on the Ryndam. This was our second cruise on the Ryndam in the last year and a half, and we came away with a new and heightened respect for the Holland America Line. We now understand more than ever why they have such a loyal following.
Our cruise agent called us and told us about a special he had just received from HAL. It seemed they needed to fill some cabins on the Ryndam for a cruise to the Western Caribbean, and they called their top agencies with a very special discounted price. It didn't take Mary and I very long to decide it was too good an offer to turn down.
As we have said in past reviews, we all look at things from a different perspective. When you read this review, please remember it is only our opinion and you have to discern for yourself if our tastes are similar to yours. Mary and I will give you an honest, straightforward opinion of what we feel were the highlights and the negatives of our cruise.
Packing for A Cruise
It seems that our society is becoming more casual each day. We now have the Wall Street financial district and other business areas having what they call, "Casual Fridays." It won't be long before they have "Casual Thursdays," "Casual Wednesdays," etc. But Mary and I enjoy getting dressed up. To us it's one of the nicest features of cruising and it is very appealing to us -- we look forward to the formal nights. There is something very elegant about being among a group of people who are all dressed for the occasion. It is not very often, if at all, that they will have a chance wear formal attire at any other time during the year. The ladies look especially attractive in evening gowns and party dresses.
We even dress up on other than formal nights; we don't pay too much attention to the suggested attire of the day. We have enough casual dress when we are home. We enjoy the whole process of getting ready for the evening. it adds a bit of anticipation for what the evening will bring. We hope that the casual trend doesn't become the norm for the cruise lines. If it does, cruising will have lost a lot of its appeal for us.
We drove to the Fort Lauderdale Port from our home in New Smyrna Beach. The parking garage was directly across from the HAL terminal. We arrived at the terminal at 12:30. There was a very smooth, efficient check-in process. They made a quick check of our cruise documents and told us we would board at 1:30. At 1:25, we boarded and we were escorted to our cabin.
We had an outside cabin, #643, on Main Deck, Deck 5. It was a good-sized cabin, with a queen sized bed, full pull-out sofa, and adequate closet and drawer space. Mary is a bath person and she loved having a tub. All of HAL's outside cabins have tubs. The shelf space in the bathroom was very limited. On the shelf they had a very nice assortment of creams, lotions and shampoo; it was more than adequate.
There was a basket of fruit on the desk area, which was replenished each day. The television channels were very limited: CNN, two movie channels, and the rest were various HAL-related programs. Our cabin steward, Rosman, kept the cabin immaculate. He lived up to our judgement of what is a good steward. We rarely saw him, but everything that needed to be done was taken care of.
We always feel a degree of excitement when we sail through the Ft. Lauderdale inlet. When we retired in 1973, for a short period of time we had a home in Ft. Lauderdale and we did a lot of boating in this area. It brings back a lot of very pleasant memories.
The sail-away party was held on the aft pool deck. A steel band supplied the Caribbean rhythms and it wasn't long before everyone was in the party mood. We were very surprised at the age of the guests. They were much younger than the passengers on our last Ryndam cruise. They appeared to be between the age of 35 and 55. It wasn't very long before it became a real party atmosphere with a long conga line strung out and weaving side to side between the two decks. Everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves. It got the cruise off to a good start.
Checking Table Arrangements
We make a habit of checking our table arrangements as soon as it is possible, and we suggest you do so. If it turns out they aren't what you requested, you have a better chance of getting them changed if you see the Maitre d' as soon as you can. Because of our late booking we weren't confirmed for the late seating, but after speaking with the Dining Room Manager, we were. And it was arranged that we be seated at the very same table we had had on our first cruise. It was more than we had expected and we were delighted. Through the years, whenever we have an exceptional service rendered or are extended a significant kindness, we make it a habit to write a letter to the department head, with a copy to the employee, complimenting that employee. It goes into their personnel file and means a great deal to them. Many times it means more than a tip.
The Ryndam's Rotterdam Dining Room is outstanding and is unique among the dining rooms we have seen on any of our cruises. We were seated at the rail of the balcony overlooking the lower level. The ceiling above the open area is certainly a work of art. It consists of 600 to 700 individual Venetian glass shades that look like inverted petunia blossoms. They are about 18 inches at the opening and are set at four different levels but all placed closely together. Instead of a light bulb in each one, they have a filament that is imbedded in the fluted glass approximately five inches from the base. The lighted ceiling is breathtaking and is truly a work of art.
The dining room walls are mostly glass, giving the diner the ability to look out at the ocean when having breakfast and lunch. The openness to the sea gives the dining room a very bright, cheerful, pleasant atmosphere. We were sorry we didn't have breakfast and lunch there more often. Another very appealing feature of the dining room was a large sunken music area on the upper balcony level, where the Rosario String Quartet played during dinner. In most ships' dining rooms, you can barely hear the music and if you can, it is mostly annoying. Not so with this dining room. It was a distinct pleasure to be able to listen to The Rosario String Quartet play chamber music as we enjoyed our dinner. A decided plus.
We were finishing our lunch in the main dining room when I noticed the waiters and assistants doing something very unusual with the table settings. I asked Augus (our maitre d') what they were doing, and he said they had started at the beginning of the Millennium resetting the tables for the second formal night of the cruise with off-white damask tablecloths and napkins, and then they do something we have never seen done before. They completely covered the chairs with off-white coverings, that were form-fitting and hung to the floor. It gave a most unusual but very rich appearance. They hung wide bands of black and white material across the ceiling of the open area and completely encased the two large columns in the center of the dining room with gold lamé from floor to ceiling. It created an elegant look that added immeasurably to the formal night atmosphere. It gave you the feeling you were going to experience something very special. And that is just what the evening was.
We were very pleased with the food. We noticed a decided improvement since our last cruise. What was especially impressive was the evening we were served lobster tails, Mary's favorite. They were of good size and broiled to perfection. Each evening they gave us a choice of salad, and either one was excellent. We found the desserts and pastries to be much better. They had a very good assortment and they were very tasty.
Although the food was much better than we expected, the service was even more so. We had a wonderful group of servers, starting with Putraham, our waiter, Indra the assistant waiter, Rocky the wine steward, and finally the Assistant Maitre d', Augus. They couldn't do enough for us. They catered to us and pampered us as if we were the only guests in their dining area. I don't think we have ever seen a group of people that were as warm, friendly and sincere as our servers.
Augus, a very handsome young man, was an outstanding assistant maitre d'. On many ships, the maitre d' comes around to each table each night to say a few words so you will remember to tip him on the last night. Not Augus -- Augus poured water; helped serve; helped clean off tables; helped serve dessert . . . Augus did everything. Mary told him if we were still in the restaurant business, we would steal him away from HAL. I think he was very pleased with Mary's comment. I know we will meet him again and I am sure he will be in an even higher position. He's a very special person; if you sail on the Ryndam, say hello to Augus.
The Ocean Bar, Where They Played Our Kind of Music
The Ocean Bar is a delightful lounge where we had cocktails and danced before and after dinner. It is staffed by Mylene, Miraluz, Roderick and Adolpho. Just as I said about the dining room crew, the lounge servers went out of their way to take care of our every need. I can't think of any other ship that serves hot hors d'oeuvres while you are waiting for your cocktail order. They do on the Ryndam. They did this every evening. And just before we would leave, Roderick would show us the dining room menu for that night so we could have an advanced look at what they were serving.
In the Ocean Bar, they feature a very accomplished trio that played the kind of music we like to dance to: that good old 40s and 50s music. The romantic music of that period makes you want to hold your spouse just a little closer and just a little tighter. I can't think of a nicer way to start an evening than to have a table in an intimate lounge, be served hors d`oeuvres and cocktails, and have an occasional dance as you bide your time before dinner. We saw many of the same people in the lounge each evening and got to spend time with some of them. One couple we met had cruised 26 times and traveled extensively. We found we had a lot in common with them and intend to keep in touch through email.
We never went to the Crow's Nest, a disco lounge at the top of the ship. We understand it was very nice, but it's not our choice of music. We understand they also served hot and cold hors d`oeuvres.
There is also a piano bar on the upper promenade deck. Keith Kerslake keeps things lively by getting the group to sing along with him. We didn't participate, but we passed the entrance two or three times a night and he always had a good crowd and everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves. If you sail on the Ryndam, you will be impressed by the two magnificent huge bouquets of flowers on each side of the entrance. I took pictures of Mary with the floral arrangements as backdrops and they turned out great. This might be the time to tell you that we have never seen as many beautiful floral bouquets as we saw on the Ryndam. There is no way we can describe their beauty. We made it a point of taking pictures in front of each of them.
The Explorers Lounge has a very unusual setting. What normally would be a wall facing the deck area, is instead the back of the lounges that have very comfortable seating for two's and four's and sixes. It gives the lounge a very open feeling. On the right-hand side is a slightly raised area, again with lounges but with higher backs, which gives you the impression you are in a separate room. In this area is a small bandstand that is the home of the Rosario String Quartet. They play there every night and have a very loyal following. High tea is served in this lounge from 3:30 to 4:00. It is white glove service and done very well. They serve tea and an assortment of finger sandwiches, Petits Fours and pastries, while the Rosario Quartet serenades you with selections of chamber music. A wonderful place to visit before taking an afternoon siesta. Once during the week they serve Dutch High Tea in the main dining room.
The Java Café is a place that serves coffee, cappuccino, coffee latte, and chocolate chip cookies from 9:00 in the morning until 4:00 in the afternoon, ALL FOR FREE. It's right across from the Wajang Theater. When Mary and I cruise, we usually have two cups of cappuccino or coffee latte each day, which on other cruise lines is a cost of $2.50 a cup or $10.00 dollars a day. Because of the recent wave of cruise lines charging extra for many items, it's even more impressive that Hal includes this in their ticket price, ALL FOR FREE!
The Lido Lunch and Alternate Dining Room
The Lido lunch room is a very attractive site. It has a generally warm feeling about it. The food was very good; for breakfast they made eggs to order. At lunch time they had four or five hot meat dishes each day and a very good variety of lunch items. They also have a very nice salad bar. There is also an area where they display assorted pastry with an attendant standing by to serve you. Toward the latter part of lunch they put the pastries and assorted sandwiches in a cylindrical refrigerated display case that rotates. When you decide what you want, you wait until it comes around -- when you open the door, it stops rotating and you can take out your selection.
If you would like to hear a little piano music while you're having lunch, go to the port side of the Lido in the aft section, and you will find Frank Banes at a white baby grand piano. He plays all of the old standards and is very good. It makes for a very pleasant lunch.
Part of the Lido is used for alternate dining. The tables are tastefully set and they have a limited menu. It's popular for families that have been ashore and don't feel like getting dressed up for dinner, and for those who are looking for a more relaxed atmosphere.
Lido Ice Cream Bar
One of the most popular places on the ship is the Lido Ice Cream Bar. You can get four different flavors of ice cream, and they change every day. You can also get yogurt in a waffle cone. After you get your ice cream, they have an area that you can get all the fixings to make a sundae: fresh whipped cream, chocolate, butterscotch, raspberry syrup, all kinds of nuts, shaved chocolate, sprinkles or just about anything else you can use with ice cream. IT'S ALL FOR FREE. A day never went by that we didn't at least make one visit to the ice cream bar, and we have the weight to show for it.
The Pool Areas
The Ryndam has very nice pool areas. The first thing that catches your eye about the main pool is a bronze sculpture by the steps of the pool featuring five leaping dolphins. It's a very beautiful piece of art. The pool has a five-foot area extending from the coping that is flooded with 6-8 inches of water. It's very enjoyable to lay down with your back against bench, surrounding the pool, and have the water slosh back and forth across your body, with the movement of the ship. There are two Jacuzzi's adjoining the pool. The pool has a sliding glass paneled roof enclosure that can be closed when it rains, or partially closed to block out the wind for evening deck parties.
At one end of the pool is the Pool Bar with a charming seating area with tables and wicker chairs. On the opposite end of the pool is a frank and hamburger grill. Adjoining this area is another cooking station where you can get various kinds of Thai food, in all different forms. There are also tacos, burritos, etc. A chef stands by to assist you in making a choice. There is another very nice pool with abundant lounges on the lower deck at the aft end of the ship. Great views from this area.
(Another very nice touch by Holland America is the 11:00AM serving of lemonade to everyone on the open decks, and the 3:00PM serving of ice tea. ALL FOR FREE.)
Quite small. Very little action. I think this is another example of Holland American knowing their clientele. They put their money and efforts into the areas they know their guests prefer.
This is not a strong point with HAL. I think they cater to a clientele that doesn't consider entertainment that important -- I think they concentrate on other amenities that are much more appealing to their loyal cruisers. The best that can be said for the production shows is that they were nice. We saw a magic act that was very good. The magician billed himself as The Brazilian Sicilian from Brooklyn. How's that for a handle? His illusions were really good but his dialogue was even better. We were also treated to special show put on by the Show Choir of Carmel, Indiana. They were a group of over 100 high school students that have put on shows all over the world. They were fully costumed and had beautiful voices. They were a big hit.
Very nicely done, but we think they missed a great opportunity to add additional enjoyment to the occasion. They had the Ryndam show orchestra on stage. They played the great standards and everyone was tapping their feet to the rhythm, but no one ever made an announcement inviting the guests onto the stage to dance, which is done on most ships. We all sat in our seats for 50 minutes until the captain was introduced.
For Holland America loyalists, at the repeaters party the captain announced that HAL is coming out with a new ship (63,000 tons) in May, another of the same class in the fall, 2 ships (84,000 tons ) in 2002, 1 ship (84,000 tons) in 2003 and 1 ship (84,000 tons) in 2004. I think if we put a fine edge on our bargaining tools we could get some excellent pricing on fall cruising.
Half Moon Cay
We heard a number of people say that if they had their druthers, they wouldn't mind if they stayed at Half Moon Cay for the week. It is an absolutely beautiful Caribbean paradise. This pristine beach stretches for some two miles. The sand is soft and white without any of the rock formations you find on many islands, and the water sparkled with every hue of green as the sun struck the water. The Maasdam was also at anchor and even with the additional people, the beach never looked crowded.
In the late 60's, we had a condo in Puerto Rico and made hydroplane trips to Magens Bay which is reputed to be one of the top ten beaches in the world. We have always loved it there. But after seeing and spending a day at Half Moon Cay, there is no comparison. It's like comparing apples and pears. We never expected it to be as nice as it is.
We went to the Beach Hotel resort next to the Hilton on Seven Mile Beach. The beach is really nothing extra, but from it's location you can walk down the beach to areas where you can wade and swim with no one within two to three hundred yards of you. It was delightful.
Cozumel has become one of our favorite ports because of the store, Los Cinco Soles and the restaurant to the rear of that store, "Pancho's Backyard." Los Cinco Soles is our favorite store of the whole Caribbean. We go through all the shops and then make our purchases there. They have every conceivable item plus a wonderful women's boutique. At Pancho's Backyard, they have a Marimba band playing for lunch and until 3 o'clock. Shopping at Los Cinco Soles, then having lunch at Pancho's, makes for a very nice port stop.
The End of Our 'Novel'
We hadn't kept notes on our previous cruises in preparation for writing a review. We relied on our memory. But since we have our reviews posted on several web sites, we have received a huge amount of mail, even some from Europe, asking all kinds of questions and asking for our suggestions on various aspects of cruising. We have learned that many of the readers rely heavily on reviews for making critical decisions about when and where, and with what line they will make their next cruise. We feel a deepened responsibility to review readers and also to the cruise lines, that the information we convey is truthful and honest, and as thorough and as unbiased as possible. Because of that realization, we kept a small notebook with us at all times during this cruise and jotted down the things we thought would be of interest.
Photos courtesy of Holland America Line & Tom & Mary Milano.
Tom & Mary Milano are obviously addicted to cruising. They would love to hear your experiences and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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