Holland America Line
by William & Mary Carpi
Ryndam 7 Day New Years Western Caribbean Cruise
December 1998/january 1999
Mary and I have been on HAL many times and this was our third on this Ryndam. We had last been on her in April, 1996 and were interested in seeing how she has matured. We had booked in June, but my travel agent found that all suites and balcony cabins were sold. She put us on the wait list and two weeks before leaving, a mini-suite (they used to be classified as "B" cabins, but have been renamed) opened up. We really like the suites on this class vessel. On some other lines the suites are just not worth the major difference in cost. We feel that on the Statendam class the value is really there.
Due to holiday schedules, we arranged our own transportation from Las Vegas. The Rotterdam was also embarking passengers, but we had no problems. We took about five minutes to be processed. The one "glitch" was that we had to fill out Bahamas Customs forms for the Half Moon Cay stop. It was annoying that it was not included in our pre-departure paperwork, or that there was no sign on the table where the forms were put out. It made me feel foolish that I had to go back to another spot, fill out the form and go back. There were no lines, but it was an annoyance. After the obligatory welcome aboard photo stop, we went aboard, found our cabin and unpacked. It was amazing: we had arrived at the dock with our luggage, took a total elapsed time of about 20 minutes, and our bags were in the room. After a quick bite of late lunch in the Lido restaurant, and the normal lifeboat drill, we departed.
There have been numerous reviews of the Statendam class of Holland America and while there are differences in décor and artwork, the layouts are all the same. It is a very comfortable mid-size vessel with pretty much all the amenities found on the huge ships, but with a lot fewer people. The ship was full for the holiday, but there was never any crowding.
We have never felt the bonding with our dining room waiter or busboy that we find in so many reviews, but we also have never had anything less than excellent service on board a HAL vessel. We were seated at a six-person table on the lower deck of the Rotterdam Dining Room, next to the aft windows. A more perfect table could not be had, with wide-open vistas of the ocean, sunsets and moonrise during dinner. The waiter was efficient, accurate and unobtrusive. The assistant waiter remembered drinks, kept the water glass filled and cleared the remains. The wine steward/cocktail person was available and quick. What more could you ask for?
The cabin steward introduced himself the first afternoon and was never seen again. The room was cleaned twice a day, and was spotless. Again, just what a passenger wants.
We had been assigned second seating in error by our travel agent. (I'm breaking in a new one and I forgot to communicate our preference, so she went with the odds.) We went to the Maitre d' and were switched easily, as more people were trying for the opposite. We were about the only people he was happy to see.
The food in the Rotterdam Dining room was very good, as usual. The beef was cooked properly as ordered, and no one had any problems. The soups were not as good as I had remembered them, but I'm not sure if that was my own fond memories intruding.
The Lido was again excellent. I find the breakfast and lunch in the Lido relaxed and comfortable. The poolside hamburgers, hot dogs, sausages, tacos, pasta, and satay make a nice alternative, and taking it into the Lido dining area is convenient if you don't want to be outside. The Ice Cream bar is the most popular spot on the vessel. Mary fell in love with the cinnamon ice cream two years ago, and when she asked for it the server said they did not have it. He saw the crushed look she had and quickly said he would ask his supervisor about it. The next day, it was there. It never went on the list as being available, but he had it for her.
(One side comment about the crew. On New Year's Eve a number of the crew must have gotten out of hand. We heard rumors that some hot and heavy PDA (Public Display of Affection) had occurred in areas open to the passengers, and the crew was essentially restricted to quarters when not working. You could tell a bit less cheerfulness from the waiters, cocktail servers, and bartenders after that.)
This was scheduled to be a normal 7-day Western Caribbean cruise: Half Moon Cay, Ocho Rios, Cozumel, Key West. It didn't quite work out that way. The first day was HAL's private island of Half Moon Cay. They have built a nice spot for a "day at the beach." The water was nice, clear and warm. All the usual activities were available, with all the equipment for rent. The food at the barbecue was hot and tasty. Not a lot more to say, just a pleasant day.
That night was New Year's Eve and HAL did its best to make it a fun evening. There were activities all over the ship, with the main party in the Vermeer Lounge. We are not party animals and having "done" New Year's Eve at home in Las Vegas for years, my comment is that the staff really tried hard.
A day at sea, then Ocho Rios, Jamaica. I had not been there since 1993 and I feel that they have made a real effort to clean the place up. We took a taxi to the main shopping area and then walked back to the ship. The shopping was the usual. The bargains are not like they used to be and unless you can haggle like a used car salesman, be careful. Mary did find a ring she liked. Their asking price was $4800.00 and they accepted $1800.00 after much wailing and howling. I still think I could have done better.
We have done Dunn's River Falls and some of the other excursions here in the past so I can't speak to that. We did feel that the locals have been told to not harass the cruise passengers. There was MUCH less hassle about braiding women's hair, and we did not experience any illegal activity.
After another day at sea, we were due into Cozumel. There was to be the obligatory stop at Playa del Carmen to debark the tour passengers at 0730 and then across the channel to Cozumel. Our captain (who was temporary, as the regular one was on vacation, due to rejoin in a couple of weeks) had radioed ahead on surf conditions, and found out that docking was going to be impossible. He went to Cozumel first in the morning to check it out, then decided to spend the day at Playa del Carmen, instead. A wise decision: we were the first ship there and took up most of the tenders, etc. Two other ships, including Splendour of the Seas, could not get in and spent the day circling out in the channel, waiting to pick up their excursion passengers. I bet their passengers aboard were not happy.
We were due to depart at 2:00 P.M., but the anchor got fouled in a coral head and could not be retrieved. He spent about 3 hours spinning the ship, trying to get it to release, and finally succeeded. The wave action must have been pretty severe because the captain announced the next morning that we had only been able to make 12 knots instead of 18 all night, and consequently we did not have time for our scheduled stop in Key West. Instead, we ended up with another day at sea. It didn't bother Mary and me, but there were a few upset passengers after the Cozumel situation. HAL did refund $25.00 per person port charges to our onboard account.
We arrived back in Ft. Lauderdale on time, and getting off was easy. Customs cleared quickly and we were among the last ones off at about 10:00 AM. Flying home to Las Vegas was the usual nightmare, with storm delays, canceled flights and packed airports due to winter travel, but that's just the price you pay.
Once again Holland America did an excellent job of providing us with a top value cruise. There was nothing out of the ordinary, other than weather problems over which they have no control. I think I'll grade them down about ¼ star for the crew morale problems after New Years, but other than that, they did a good job.
William Carpi is an Optometrist, Mary Carpi is a Pediatric Audiologist. Both live in Las Vegas with their three children and can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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