Southern Caribbean Seafarer Cruise March/April 1998
Having finally gotten enough free time, I will submit the review of my honeymoon on HAL's M/S Ryndam. Both my wife and I are 26, however the Seafarer cruise was the most convienent, as it left on a Tuesday after we were married on Sunday. We also booked the cruise knowing HAL's "average" clientele, as we figured a relaxing honeymoon was better after a bunch of wedding festivities. It should also be noted that this was our second cruise, the first being on the S/S Norway. I'll break this review into day by day.
Since we had an extra day, we booked our own air (USAirways) and flew down to FLL the day before and stayed in the Hyatt Pier 66. The cab ride is short and costs about $10. With the advice of Sharon Jackson, our travel agent, we requested a room on the canal side of the resort, with a 1st floor lanai. This was to put us away from the Causeway construction, which we could still faintly hear. HAL had some representatives this night for embarkation/transport to the pier so that all we had to do was show up at the appropriate time and be taken to the Ryndam.
The Ryndam is one of the "dam" class ships of HAL, and I will skip a deck by deck review of the furnishings. The only reminders that Carnival owns the corporation, are in the Joe Farcus designed Piano Bars (with purple and pink leather couches) and Crow's Nest (with neon and venetian glass). All of the other lounges and public rooms were tastefully done in sea greens, blues, and browns. As in other reviews, the sightlines in the show lounge aren't great if you're not in front (on either level). However, we found later that sight lines aren't terrible in the raised section in the back of the first floor of the lounge. A final note was that despite having 1266-1300 people on board, you NEVER felt crowded at all. The only lines were for the Lido.
About 1 in the afternoon, we got on the HAL bus to take us to the pier. Again, a short hop from the hotel to the ship. My first impression, having been on the Norway, was how small a 55,000 GRT ship is compared to a 76,000 GRT ship! As you entered the terminal, you were given a card with a number (we were 22), at which point you were to mill about until your number was called. This took about 45 minutes before we were actually called and ready to board. It was also at this time that we realized that we were probably 2 of 30 people under the age of 40, being a 10 day cruise and all.
We eventually found our cabin, an M catgeory inside on the B deck, and were introduced to our cabin steward, Riatoni. The cabin was huge for cruise standards, with enough room for two hanging closets, two night tables, a sitting sofa, writing desk, dresser, and small table for when you sit on the sofa. It should be noted that all cabins come with the credit card safes as well. Riatoni was a great steward, in that he was hardly ever seen.
After unpacking, we explored the ship and ended up at the Explorer's Lounge, where we would spend most of our time. Leo and Dennis ended up being our servers. Hors d'oevuers were served every afternoon in the lounge, and we took advantage of that, being in second seating. It was here and in the dining room, that we found HAL's level of service to be impeccable. The warmth of the staff is genuine and is at the same level of consistency for the entire cruise.
In the dining room, second seating was only half full. Both of us and our table mates, a retired couple from California celebrating 51 years of marriage (against our 2 days) had requested a table for 6, but ended up together at a table for 4. It was not a problem, but it was interesting to see that second seating was only half full. We were introduced to our dining staff: Abdul, our waiter; Ono, our busboy; and Agus, our head steward. All of them were happy to serve us, including going the extra distance. By this time, my new wife was slightly ill to her stomach, and decided to have the plainest thing on the menu for the first night: Steak. However, she couldn't make it through the meal, and asked Agus for plain pasta, which he readily provided. The funny part was for the next 4 days, all of our wait staff asked my wife if she was ok to eat the food! She had recovered by the next day, attributing the sickness to the release of tension from the wedding.
Day 1: Nassau, Bahamas (1/2 day)
We docked in Nassau at approximately 7:00 am, leaving 4 hours or so for sightseeing. It was slightly cool (low 70's) for March, as they had had some rains recently. My wife and I opted to take a 1/2 hour carriage ride from the drivers along Bay Street. We also explored a small portion of the downtown area. The Ryndam left port at 12:00 pm, heading off into a cloudy sky, which would turn out to be an omen for the next couple of days. It was extremely windy, to the point were lying at the pool was cold, even though the sun was out. Entertainment tonight was a small Broadway show and Comedian who was fair.
Day 2: At sea.
After a rough night, the crew dispensed seasick bags throughout the ship. Another day at the pool. Extremely windy/cloudy and even rougher seas. Finally, in the afternoon, Captain Jack von Coevorden decided that enough bad weather was enough, and instead of proceeding north to south along the Leeward/Windward Islands, we would head to Barbados first and head north, effectively reversing the Itinerary. This meant less time in St. Lucia, but more time in St. Thomas. We later found out from another group of passengers from the Cunard Sea Goddess that their entire land stay in St. Thomas was rain (4 days worth). The entertainment tonight was a ventriloquist.
Day 3: At sea.
Overnight, the seas got even rougher, to the point of awakening me out of bed in the middle of the night, due to the movement of the ship. We later found out that the last few days, the Ryndam had been navigating through 30 foot swells, and today, one could hardly see a portion of the ocean without whitecaps. It was a day to stay inside and relax. By this time, the natives were growing restless, as we hadn't seen the sun since Nassau. The captain informed us that our arrival in Barbados would be delayed until about 9 am, due to heavy seas. Entertainment was a violinist, whom we chose not to see. Overall reaction was mixed anyhow.
Day 4: Barbados
We awoke to finally see the sun, only to find out that we would be delayed even further in our arrival into Bridgetown, due to one last night of rough seas. We ended up docking into Bridgetown at approximately 11:30 am local time, and many passengers were happy to finally see some land. The only disappointing thing about this was as it was a Saturday & all of Bridgetown closes at noon. We ended up not going to tour Bridgetown, and instead hired a taxi driver at the dock to give us a 4.5 hour tour, where we stopped at St. John's Church, the Flower Forest, and Gun Hill signal station. We also drove through St. Lawrence Gap, where we were shown the Casaurina Beach Hotel, with a lovely beach. Once done with the tour, we headed back to the ship for our afternoon stop in the Explorer's Lounge. Entertainment for the night was the first of two full Broadway shows.
Day 5: St. Lucia
The only stop that was on the same day in either direction, we already knew that Castries, the port city, was closed, as all St. Lucians are in church. We took a short walk around the Town Square, as we booked a shore excursion with the ship to take the drive to Soufriere to see the Pitons. As we returned to the ship, the St. Lucian police drove up with sirens blaring, as apparently one of the ship's passengers was wounded in town. We later found out that a couple had walked into town and the husband had been attacked trying to protect his wife in an attempted robbery. The husband sustained a broken arm, and apparently had to be flown back to the states. His wife had been wearing a nice necklace which caught the eyes of the robbers. One tip I have is to only wear non-descript jewelry while in port, and use your common sense, as we did not have any problems walking in the same areas.
The ship's tour was a drive from Castries to Soufriere (about 26 miles), which takes over an hour and a half, as St. Lucia is all volcanic. The tour had stops at Bagshaw's (a silk art studio), Soufriere's drive in volcano, Photo stops for the Pitons, and a quick stop at the Soufriere Estate (home of the Diamond Waterfalls). A very beautiful country with friendly natives. To put island life in perspective, one of our group asked how unemployment was on the island. Our guide replied it was very low, at only 10% unemployment, from a high of 15%. Originally, our tour had us being picked up by a tender in Soufriere, but as we had changed itineraries, we drove back to the ship in Castries (the same route, as St Lucia only has two main roads), but with a stop at Marigot Bay. Entertainment for the night was another Instrumentalist.
Day 6: St. Maarten/St. Martin
As we have been to St. Maarten before on our last cruise, we opted to take a taxi to Marigot to have lunch. Phillipsburg is the same commercial area down by the pier as usual. The island has recovered well from the hurricanes of '95 and '96, and nary a blue tarp is to be found, and the greenery is coming back as well. After lunch, we headed to Grand Case for a beach stop. The beach was rather grainy, but it was nice being the only couple on the beach (aside from a few locals and one dog). However, as we arrived, it rained heavily only in Grand Case for 30 minutes, and again for at least an hour before we left. I had some ribs from the Rib ladies ($4 for a rack) and headed back to the ship. Entertainment was a second comedian.
Day 7: St Thomas
Today we anchored in the bay at Charlotte Amalie, as we were the 4th of 5 ships in today (one had to dock at the submarine base). St. Thomas has also recovered from the Hurricane Marilyn days, and we decided to take a historical shore excursion offered by HAL, since we spent the whole day on St. John on our last cruise. This tour stopped at Paradise Point, where it was so clear that our guide pointed out both the islands of St. Croix and Puerto Rico. We also stopped at Blackbeard's Castle, the St. Thomas Synagogue, and Fort Christian, before heading off to do the requisite shopping. Entertainment for the night was a magician who had been on ABC, and really was the star entertainment for the cruise.
Day 8: At sea
Today another relaxing day at sea. The sun finally came out for a sea day, and many people took advantage of it. Unfortunately, many people (including us) also burned, as it was the first completely cloudless day. The highlight for me however was the engine room tour. I had heard that HAL has an informal policy where if you request a tour in writing to the chief engineer, one will be arranged. I did so on the first day at sea, and by today, 9 of us got to go on such a tour. We were instructed to meet at the Dining room, where one of the engineers on duty met us and escorted us down to C deck, where the engine room is. We were shown the control room with explanations of what all the controls were, and how the captain's commands are relayed down to the engine room. From there, we were all given ear plugs, and the engineer showed us EVERY part of the engine room, which in the end, was almost a 2 hour tour. It was very detailed and interesting. Entertainment was a Broadway show.
Day 9: Half Moon Cay
HAL's newest entry into the out island fray is an excellent addition to the itinerary. Half Moon has a huge, half-moon beach, which is only used partly, as only one ship is in at a time. There is an extensive network of trails to explore, and the food pavillion is there. The post office was not yet operational, but they hope to have it done soon, so that you can send Half Moon postcards to your friends and family while you're on vacation. There are plenty of watersports activities as well. If you're looking to snorkel without buying a snorkelling tour, you will be disappointed however. The beach area is free of coral and fish, and HAL takes you to a different part of the island for snorkelling. Entertainment was a return of the second instrumentalist.
Day 10: Debarkation
At the end, US Airways and Delta had the most passengers, so HAL had them come aboard to check luggage and load it onto trucks at the pier directly to FLL. This was a great convienence. We did not disembark on time, because a number of people did not see U.S. Customs in the morning. Eventually, after a number of announcements, the last of which remarked that all other passengers were waiting on one final passenger, we were allowed to leave.
My wife and I are very happy with the level of service we received on HAL. It is truly amazing that on a ship of 1300 people, the staff can remember your name and tastes after one meeting. The food was on par for a cruise line, with an emphasis on Dutch and Indonesian cuisine. The only disappointments we had were a general lack of alternatives for activities or dining, as the program was geared to the older set, and we saw many people return lunch or dinner for something more mainstream once they saw what it was. Also, second seating almost always prohibited you from going to the midnight buffets (which are at 11:30), because you don't finish dinner until 9:15 or so. We ended up at two of the 10. Entertainment was also well done, and apparently HAL has recently improved the people behind the entertainment on the Ryndam.
Would we take HAL again?
Most likely, on a 7 day cruise, where the average age is much younger than "60 year olds and their parents" as we heard some passengers remark.
That's not to say we didn't enjoy our cruise - it was the most relaxing 10 days that we'd had in a while, and it was great for our honeymoon.
Bill Trost can be reached for questions or comment at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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