Holland America Line Ryndam Southern Caribbean Cruise, April 1998
We arrived in Florida a week early and went to Key West for a few days. In our opinion, Key West is a fun 2-3 days ... certainly no longer. Activities are limited, but everything is within walking distance if you stay close to (or on ... not recommended) Duval Street, the main drag. Bed & Breakfast inns are plentiful and go from one end of the spectrum to the other as far as quality goes. Most are more reasonable ($$) than your Hampton Inns or Best Westerns. B&B's are tough to pick via mail and/or Internet, and when we arrived, we immediately cancelled our reservation at the inn we had chosen (dud), and relocated to a wonderful little B&B, La Pension. There is lots of tourist-type shopping, great food, water sports, moped rentals, etc. All in all, a wonderful way to relax before your cruise.
We were pleasantly surprised that we never had to pay for any kind of taxi service. We chose Alamo Rental Car, and we took their bus from the Ft. Lauderdale airport to their off-airport location (about 7-10 minutes away). On the day of the cruise, we returned the car and they had a bus waiting to take cruise passengers to their respective terminals. Very convenient.
We embarked on the m/s Ryndam in Ft. Lauderdale and had a very smooth experience. We decided to do it right this time and had purchased a suite, and from the time the embarkation counter saw this, we were treated wonderfully. They publicize that boarding begins at 3:00pm. We dropped our bags off at the terminal at 12:30pm and then went to drop off our rental car. We returned by about 1:15pm and had a 10-minute wait in line to check in. They were handing out boarding numbers, of which they were calling group "12" to board, but when they saw we had a suite, they handed us the number "2" and we simply walked right onto the ship.
We were escorted to our suite via the elevator. This was the ONLY time we took the elevator to our deck as it (and every other elevator we've ever experienced on a cruise) was slow. Our suite was on the Navigation Deck and it was number 010. We were PLEASANTLY surprised to walk into our spacious room and check it out. Champagne was chilling for us. Lots of little notes were addressed to us by captains, cruise directors, dining stewards, etc. Fresh flowers, king-sized bed (comfortable too), big thick robes, personal stationery (a real stretch as to being elegant but our name WAS on it), fresh fruit, stocked bar, refrigerator, VCR, Sony 19" color television, safe, etc. Hair dryers are in the bathroom. If you have long, thick hair, bring your own. The bathtub and shower were very good. The tub had Jacuzzi jets but we never got around to that. Not big enough for two I might add.
I hate to alarm anyone, but if you ever sail in a suite -- it will cost you big over your entire lifetime. You'll never cruise any other way again! We could have stayed in the room the entire time and been happy. We rarely saw our cabin steward, but the room stayed very well picked up by him (and equally as well cluttered by us). The veranda was a highlight. We had no noisy neighbors, even though we knew that on one side there was a 10-year-old boy. We never heard a peep out of him. We should have tipped his parents! We had breakfast on the veranda daily. We sunbathed out there a few times. Many times we sailed into port while standing on the veranda. And we ... ahhhh ... well, never mind. Great.
Suite passengers are invited to both a Captain's Dinner and a Captain's lunch. Both are excellent. Also, take advantage of their complimentary laundry service. It's WORTH it.
Tops. Aside from the breakfast card that you fill out and put outside your door at night if you want breakfast, anytime we called them, our order was there within 10 minutes -- even though they quoted approximately 30 minutes. And breakfasts were no exception. It was never even one minute late from what we had requested on our card. Food temps were between hot and very warm, and the coffee was always hot. Selection of food is limited to soups, sandwiches, salads, beverages and desserts. Breakfasts, of course, are eggs, breads, beverages, fruits and cereals. No meats unless you order it in omelettes. I should say, however, that we never tried asking for anything off the menu given us. Judging by their service in other areas, they may very well have supplied anything we asked for.
The Dining Room & Food
We had requested a table for 6 at the early seating but got an upstairs table for 2 overlooking the downstairs -- near the stairs. We weren't sure if we were going to like it. We considered requesting a change, but since we had never had a table for 2 on any other cruise (we've taken three), we thought we'd give it a shot. So glad we did: we very much enjoyed it. I felt we got even more personal attention. On about Day 7 of the cruise, we had met a younger couple who also had a table to themselves by the big windows. It was a table for four, but only set for two. This couple invited us to dine with them for the remainder of the cruise, which we did. I will say that the Head Steward did not readily like the idea and appeared quite concerned about how our waiter would take it. We decided to give our waiter and the assistant waiter their tips early with a firm handshake with a glowing gift of thanks as to their service and respective professionalism and personalities. No one appeared slighted or upset.
The food in the dining room was very good. We both like a little foreign flair and there appeared to be quite a bit of that. One night I did decide to try the vegetarian selection of potato pancakes with pureed brocoli and other unusual accompaniments; I wouldn't do that one again. Paul thought the Beef Wellington was good, but the lobster was excellent. Both were served on the same night, so he and our male table companion shared their main courses without batting an eye -- twice, if I remember correctly.
Desserts were very good and exceptionally light, which we appreciated. My favorite was a frozen cappuccino truffle with chocolate covered coffee beans mixed in. Very good. We never ate either breakfast or lunch in the dining room, but the menus looked yummy. We thought that by skipping lunch, we would not gain as much weight. It didn't work near as well as we had expected it to. The Lido Restaurant was quite good in our opinion. A wide variety for breakfast, and I thought the french toast was wonderful -- very moist and flavorful. Too bad I discovered it only three days before the cruise was over! The bread pudding with vanilla sauce had been recommended to us so we did try it one day. I thought it was fair. We have a chain in the Southwest called "Cracker Barrel" and in my opinion, their bread pudding can't be beat. But I will say, the ship's bread pudding was always gone by the end of snack time. Many people appeared to enjoy it. One day we took advantage of the Lido Deck grill and had some guacamole with chips and cheese, etc. Can be addicting if you're not careful.
We very much enjoyed the entertainment. We had heard that is wasn't as great as other cruise lines, but the group that performed on m/s Ryndam was very good. There was always a little variety dancing each night, usually in addition to other talents. The comedian was fair; one concert violinist was incredible; we missed the magician and impressionist. The first night's performance was cut short since most everyone was exhausted by the day's events. We liked that.
The m/s Ryndam is a wonderful ship and we will most definitely sail her again some day. The sightlines in the main showroom were above average, and even better upstairs. The sound quality was good. There are many lounges on board and most were quite good, although some are less smokey than others:
The CROWS NEST was tops. Never crowded and the bar crew they had was exceptional. Live music (variety) was a nighttime routine with us. A small and intimate dance floor. The lounge is divided into a smoking and non-smoking side, which is very effective.
The OCEAN BAR also had good music but was quite smokey.
The EXPLORERS LOUNGE had nice chamber music at night but we weren't as impressed with it as were others.
The PIANO BAR looked nice, but smokey.
The Lido Pool was beautiful, but crowded, so we spent most of our pool time at the Navigation Deck pool -- one of their best kept secrets.
We spent no time on the Sports Deck, but did walk the Promenade Deck track twice a day. Four laps equals a mile (pant, pant). Now, I'd like to tell you that this also helped in our war on weight gain, but alas, it was not to be. Or, maybe a better way of putting it is what in the world would we have gained had we NOT skipped lunch and walked our 2 miles a day?? Didn't hit the beauty salon either. Got our massages before leaving: LOTS cheaper.
The casino was one of the better casinos in our opinion. Big and roomy. Black Jack was our game and overall, we were winners this time. Except for one, all dealers were very good and friendly. The one exception was an employee who was about to quit and couldn't wait for her contract to be over (which she knew to be exactly 16 days). They should not have had her on the floor. We simply moved from her table within a few minutes and that was that. Non-smoking tables are available in the evenings.
We tried the movie theatre this time. Aside from the older crowd talking quite loudly to one another periodically, it was a good experience. It helped that the movie was good.
The photo gallery was well organized. We purchased 2-3 pictures.
The ship herself was in very good condition. We had never been on a ship of this size. We'd been on a megaship, and the 30,000-ton size. We much preferred the larger ship, so we were hesitant about this 50,000-ton sized ship. What a pleasant experience: nothing was ever crowded. Also, the lack of audible announcements is apparent and NICE. Of course you still get your daily newsletter of the following days events.
Our ports were Half Moon Cay, St. Thomas, St. Maarten, St. Lucia, Barbados, and Nassau. Half Moon Cay is Holland America's private island, and we enjoyed it immensely. Nice snorkeling for beginners. It was very windy that day and they did need to limit their water sports activities. This was our personal favorite stop.
Nassau was our next favorite, although the city tour we took was a dud. I have to keep saying "in our opinion," because another couple who we met and liked took a similar excursion and thought it was the greatest thing since butter!
We had been to St. Thomas before. Pretty much just shopping, if you like that sort of thing. We did not hear of many who had shore excursions here.
It rained in St. Maarten and this was the day we had a snorkeling excursion off a catamaran. It was a 3-hour excursion and in my opinion, that was 3 hours too long. If you like to snorkel off a boat (no beach) in fairly deep water (20-25 feet), then this is for you. This was our first experience doing this, and the depth of the water made me (Cathy) very uncomfortable. The overcast day made the fish quite demure and blah in color. You could feel the rain on your back as you snorkeled and the slight wind made many people cold. I will say that Holland America gave refunds to those people who booked the excursion but backed out because of the weather. Another thing Holland America did was to refund 100% of our St. Lucia snorkeling excursion money, even though their policy is to refund only 90% once reserved. Paul's ear had not cleared from the prior snorkeling event and frankly, I had had enough. We enjoyed that day (St. Lucia) on board ship, poolside on the Navigation Deck. That night as we docked off the island, there was an outdoor party by the Lido Pool with a fantastic steel drum band off the island. This band was phenominal. Thoroughly enjoyable.
The other ports were just okay but I got tired of the volumes of citizens trying to sell you a bargain, give you a taxi ride, etc.. Our favorite days are always those "AT SEA".
Suite passengers can take advantage of keeping their luggage until 6:30am the morning of disembarkation. Of course, we were still in LaLa land when they knocked on the door to retrieve it. Naturally the mood is somber on this last morning. The Lido Restaurant is fuller than normal with people grabbing their last bit of "free" food. Suite passengers are the first to disembark -- smoothly, I might add. Our luggage was waiting for us, even though it was some of the last to be retrieved by our cabin stewards. Porters are waiting for you at the end of the gangway.
We stayed in Ft. Lauderdale an extra day to avoid the airport crowd on the day of disembarkation. We slept during the afternoon and then went to watch the Ryndam head back out that evening. It had been a fantastic trip that could hardly have been improved upon, and we would highly recommend this line, and the m/s Ryndam in particular. The crowd is older and are not big party people, but this is what we were after.
Paul Sparks is a pilot working for an overnight freight company and Cathy is a homemaker. They can be reached for questions or comment at: email@example.com.
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