Background Info: We are in our late 40's and have been on over 20 cruises -- mostly on Holland America but we've also been on NCL and Princess. We usually cruise with one or two other couples. This cruise was a "Family Cruise" which means we took our children along. The "children" ranged in age from 12 to 22 with most at the high end. Our group totaled 10 people.
We began our vacation on March 2 with a pre-cruise stay at Pier 66 Hotel in Ft Lauderdale. We booked our air and hotel on our own because it was substantially cheaper. It seems that the air packages offered by the cruise lines are awfully expensive anymore. Being on our own, we took a taxi from the airport to the hotel. The cab fare was about $9 (without the tip). It took 3 taxis to get us all to the hotel. By 1:30 in the afternoon, we were sitting poolside at the bar having lunch and enjoying the sunshine (being from Pennsylvania the Florida weather was a real treat). We spent the afternoon laying around by the pool relaxing.
In the evening, we went to the Holland America Desk in the Lobby and checked in for our cruise. It is nice to get that out of the way. It was very smooth and the ladies there were very friendly. They gave us our embarkation numbers and stamped our tickets. We were ready to board!! But... the ship won't be ready to board for another day.
For dinner, we went to the California Cafe which is right next to the Pier 66 Hotel. It is very expensive and the menu didn't meet the varied interests of our group. They made wood fire baked pizza but it was only listed as an Appetizer. A number of us ordered it -- it was rather poor. After dinner, we walked across to the Hess mini-market and picked up some beer and snacks. We spent the rest of the evening sitting poolside enjoying the company, the weather, and the refreshments.
The next morning, we awoke all rested and ready to cruise. The weather was gorgeous! We ate breakfast in the hotel coffee shop -- they have the absolute best orange juice!! We drank a couple quarts of it. After breakfast, we went up to the observation deck atop Pier 66 Hotel. It looks out over the docks where the cruise ships dock. There was the Statendam... loading supplies and waiting for us. It was the only ship in port. We checked out of the hotel around Noon and made arrangements to have our luggage brought out front and to have taxi cabs summoned. It took a while for the taxis to arrive but in no time we were on our way to the ship. The taxi fare to the ship was about $9. The luggage was turned over to the porters and we got in line to go through security. The line moved quickly and smoothly. By 1:00 PM we were waiting to board the ship. Boarding began at 1:30 PM. We had Embarkation # 1 so we were on the ship by about 1:45 PM. The embarkation was very smooth.
Of course our luggage wasn't in our room yet. We met our Cabin Steward who promptly changed the locks so that we would have 4 keys -- Holland America Service! The adults in our group had all been on the Statendam before so we knew our way around. We took the "kids" on a short tour and the ladies headed to the Beauty Salon to sign up for a massage. The best time slots go fast -- we've learned to book appointments as soon as possible.
While waiting for the ladies to get signed up, we ran into Ariel, a Bar Waiter that we knew from a previous cruise on the Statendam. He took good care of us on that cruise and we knew we would be well taken cared for on this cruise. We followed him upstairs to the Crow's Nest which is our favorite bar on this ship. We were pleased to find that the Bartender at the Crow's Nest was Willy, the same guy from our last cruise. It was like a family reunion!
Before sailing, there was the mandatory life boat drill. It was done in a very disciplined manner and it was crowded. I can't ever remember seeing that many people at a boat drill. After boat drill, we unpacked. There were four of us (all adults) in a Category L cabin. Amazingly, we had enough space to store all of our clothes! Then to the Sail Away Party on the back deck...
The band played as we steamed out of Ft. Lauderdale past the Condominiums where they blew air horns and waved goodbye to us. It is such a great send off. I wonder if the cruise lines pay those people in the condos.
We ate second seating dinner and had a table for 10. The menu was great - 6 Appetizers; 3 Soups; 2 Salads; 6 Entrees; and 1 Healthy Choice. It makes it hard to decide what to eat. My son usually ordered 2 or 3 entrees because he couldn't make up his mind. The service was excellent as usual.
We made our contribution at the Casino, which is well equipped to take your money... Roulette, Craps, Blackjack, Caribbean Poker, and a 7 Card Stud game were the featured tables. For us gambling wimps, there were slots ($1, $.25, $.10) and video poker. We ended the night dancing in the Crow's Nest Bar which becomes a disco at night. Willy, the Bartender, took very good care of us.
Thursday we stopped at HAL's private island, Half Moon Cay, Bahamas. We all tendered to the island. Some of our group snorkled. The rest of us walked around, took pictures, and returned to the ship. We aren't "beach people". HAL did a very nice job in creating this private island. The beach is very nice and there are excellent facilities. Prices for the various activities are reasonable.
Back on board we found some steamer chairs on the side deck and took a nap. Because of the number of us sharing cabins, we would take turns showering and dressing for dinner. Those of us not showering/dressing hung out in the Crows Nest where the JP Quartet played instrumental music for dancing. Of course we had to have some hot Cocktail Appetizers which is a daily treat in the lounges before dinner.
After another excellent dinner, we went to the show which was a Comedienne named Bobbi Baker. We weren't rolling on the floor laughing but she was very entertaining. After the nightly contribution to the Casino, it was back to the Crows Nest for dancing. At 2:00 AM, Willy offered us sandwiches -- just in time, too, because we were starving!!
Friday was a day at sea. A day for relaxation... a little reading and a little napping. While laying on a lounge chair, I lost my credit card case with all my credit cards in it. That created some undesired stress when I realized it was missing. While trying to retrace my steps, we got a phone call in our cabin from a deck steward who found the case. I claimed it from him and tipped him well -- and made a new friend for the rest of the cruise.
As usual, a sea day means formal dress at night and, this being the first day at sea makes it the perfect opportunity for the Captain to throw his Welcome Aboard Champagne Reception. There were plenty of photo/portrait opportunities while we waited in line to meet the Captain. Once at the party, there was plenty of free champagne, white wine, and other drinks. And I mustn't forget the Cocktail Appetizers... I don't know how we had any room for dinner! But we did.
The Show featured the Statendam Cast in a production titled, Personality. They featured a number of singing stars from the past 50 years. They sang and danced. The dancing was fine but there was very little live singing. Many of the songs had lip synching, especially the back up singers. After the show, the JP Quartet was doing a Salute to Billy Joel. They performed many of his hit songs and did so flawlessly. It was very enjoyable -- my wife and I are big Billy Joel fans. We made our rounds at the Casino and the Crow's Nest. We were beginning to find that the Crow's Nest wasn't closing until after 3:00 AM... and who can leave a bar that is still open?
On Saturday, we docked at St Thomas, US Virgin Islands. We were docked at Havensight which has a shopping mall right at the dock. A few of us stayed on board to enjoy the ship. The rest went ashore to shop. There were 17 shore excursions available - helicopters, bike rides, submarines, party boats, touring, golf, scuba - I got tired just reading the list!
We sailed out of St Thomas at 5:00 PM and then it was time for cocktails, appetizers, and dancing in the Crow's Nest. Is this a tough life or what? After dinner, showtime featured, Pascual & Angela, Spanish Dancers. I imagine many people were bored silly but I became a fan of Flamenco Dancing when visiting Spain many years ago. So, I really enjoyed them. Then, the obligatory stop in the Casino followed by partying the night away in the Crow's Nest. We didn't think the Crow's Nest would ever close. The Hotel Manager was partying in the Crow's Nest so the Supervisor on duty didn't have the nerve to make a "last call". We finally left at 4:00 AM. We later found out from Willy that the bar finally closed at 4:30 AM.
Sunday we docked in Rouseau, Dominica. All the shops were closed because it was Sunday. But, there was a small straw market set up right across the street from the dock. We seriously considered hiring a taxi to take us to see the Trafalgar Falls, the Emerald Pool, and some other sights. But we didn't have much time at this stop. The ship sailed at 3:30 PM and we didn't get off the ship until around Noon. The taxi driver told us it would take 2 and a half hours for the trip. That was cutting it too close for us so we declined. We tried to visit the straw market but the taxi drivers were swarming all over us. Each of us had at least 2 drivers pestering us. We quickly tired of that and ran for the ship. The craft sellers lost a lot of business that day because the taxi drivers wouldn't let anyone shop at the straw market without pestering them. If I did this again, I would book one of the ship's tours. There were 13 excursions available ranging in price from $24 to $69.
The evening show was a vocalist, Robin Fellows. She had an excellent voice but I didn't really care for her selection of music. She was definitely playing to the 70 year olds in the audience. At 11:30 PM, there was a 70's Disco Party in the Crow's Nest. The DJ, Jazzy Jeff, played Disco music from the 70's and a few of the cruise staff were on hand to get everyone dancing. Needless to say, the party went on 'til past 2 AM.
Monday was Port of Spain, Trinidad. This is a really big city. Upon exiting the terminal building, we were swarmed with taxi drivers. There was a straw market set up right outside the terminal building and we tried to do a little shopping there but the taxi drivers drove us nuts. We finally headed into town to a shopping area that was recommended to us on the ship. The city was big, dirty, and noisy. Some of us tired of shopping very quickly. We considered going to a beach but it was a 45 minute taxi ride (each way!). Not being beach people - and not being taxi riding people - we decided against that and returned to the ship. The ship offered 9 excursions ranging in price from $34 to $129.
There was a special afternoon showtime featuring a steel drum band called The Garth Nicolas Entertainers. We didn't see that show because we were lounging outside on the side deck. But, later in the day, a steel drum band began playing on the dock right along side the ship. There were about 10 or 12 steel drum players and their synchronization was totally amazing. We sailed out of Trinidad as the steel drum band played their hearts out.
Despite being in port all day, the dress code for the evening was Formal. The show featured the Statendam Cast in a production called Could It Be Magic? It was a mixture of singing, dancing and magic tricks -- very entertaining but I get irritated by the lip synching. I wish they would sing everything live! After the regular showtime, there was a special show put on by the Indonesian Crew (Dining Room Waiters and Cabin Stewards). This is a tradition on Holland America. The Indonesians and the Filipinos alternate shows. They do such a great job. In the Casino, we ran into another Bar Waiter that we knew from our cruise on the Noordam last March. He made sure we were taken care of while in the Casino. In the Crow's Nest, the Cast showed up to join the dancing.
If it's Tuesday, it's Martinique. We docked at Fort-de-France. Some of our group were so frustrated by the swarming taxi drivers and not getting to do anything on the islands that they booked us all on a ship's excursion for Martinique. We took the Martinique By Land and Sea Tour for $59/person. They advertised the tour as being part coach (or taxi), part tram ride, and part catamoran ride. Given the number of people on the tour (10 in our group alone), we expected to have a coach (bus). Instead, we were all separated and jammed into taxi cabs. There were four of us in our cab. We were supposed to make several sightseeing stops. Our taxi only stopped once (twice if you count getting out at the end). Apparently, the other taxis followed the itinerary more closely and stopped several times. Our taxi arrived in St. Pierre before all the rest so we just sat around there waiting for the rest of the tour group. We boarded a tram that drove around the streets of St Pierre while an audio tape played that told the story of the volcano eruption in 1902. The Volcano Museum was a real disappointment. Then, we boarded a small tour boat (not a catamoran as advertised). They played music over the PA System and served drinks out of a cardboard box -- not as romantic as it sounded in the description.
Upon our return to the dock, some of us had enough touring on Martinique and returned to the ship. The others took the water ferry to the Meridien Beach Hotel. The beaches at Martinique are topless (in some cases clothing optional) -- needless to say, my son enjoyed his trip to the beach at Martinique. After dinner, the show featured the Comedy Juggling of Craig Douglas. He was excellent -- a very skilled juggler and extremely funny. This was probably the best show of the entire week. After the show, we stopped in to the Explorer's Lounge to catch the end of the Rosario Strings performance. Of course we also enjoyed the complimentary chocolates and special coffees. We ended the night in the Crow's Nest, again.
On Wednesday, we anchored off the coast of Basseterre, St. Kitts. We decided to get off the ship and hire a taxi to take us to Brimstone Hill. What a difference this island was! No swarming taxi drivers here. It was very professional. We hired a driver who agreed to take us wherever we wanted to go, all afternoon, $15/person (somewhat better than the $59/person we paid for the tour in Martinique). This ended up being the best time of all. The driver was named Wally. He spoke very good english and made a point of carefully enunciating all his words and speaking loudly enough for everyone to hear him. All ten of us fit comfortably in his van. Throughout the entire drive out to Brimstone Hill, he pointed out the various sights and explained the history surrounding what we were seeing. He was like a talking encyclopedia -- dates, names, he didn't miss a beat!
After touring Brimstone Hill (which has an admission charge of $5/person), Wally took us on a tour of the beaches and resorts at the southern end of the island. He was ready to go on to other sights but we were beat and had him return to the ship. We tipped him well for an excellent tour. If you are ever there, ask for Wally.
Brimstone Hill was awesome. Some people say "If you've seen one fort, you've seen them all." Brimstone Hill proves those people wrong.
The ship offered 11 excursions on St Kitts. My daughter took the Horseback Riding Rainforest Adventure ($79/person) along with another member of our group. They really enjoyed it.
The evening show was before dinner for second seating diners. I really hate when they schedule the show before dinner. The reason we book second seating dinner is so we are not rushed from the afternoon's activities to be dressed by 6:00 PM. So, they put the show at 6:45 PM and we had to give up watching our sail-away from St. Kitts to get ready in time for the show. Worst part, the show wasn't worth it. The show was the comedy and impressions of Paul Lennon. It contained practically no original humor at all!
After dinner, we ended up in the Piano Lounge where a guy named Kemble was playing and the crowd was singing along. We had a really good time there. Kemble was very entertaining with both his piano playing and his humor. At 10:45 PM, the Cruise Staff hosted a Fabulous 50's and 60's Party in the Crow's Nest. We missed the beginning of that but arrived in time to enjoy dancing to some Oldie's.
Finally, Thursday was a Sea Day. Time to recover from all those island stops. We spent the day eating, reading, and napping. A few of our group participated in ship activities... trivia contests, dance lessons, etc. My wife and daughter had their massages. It was an all around relaxing day. Dress for the evening was Formal.
The "Repeaters" Party was in the evening. That is the traditional party for Holland America Alumni. Another opportunity to drink free champagne (and other drinks). We certainly took advantage of the opportunity. At dinner, we had the traditional Parade of the Baked Alaska.
The show after dinner was the B>Statendam Cast performing Barry Manilow's Copacabana. The Cruise Director, Edwin Rojas, talked this show up all week as the best show ever performed on the high seas. Never before has any cruise ship put on a show like this... yada, yada, yada. It didn't live up to the billing he gave it. I've seen much better shows on NCL. Most of the music was recorded and so was a lot of the singing. It is such a shame because they have a very talented orchestra on board. They used to play all live music for the shows on Holland America. Now they use all this recorded stuff. It's not the same. Are all the other cruise lines doing recorded music and singing at their shows??
At 10:45 PM, they put on the Dutch Dessert Extravaganza with chocolate galore. The Cruise Director, Edwin, promoted the extravaganza promising chocolate covered strawberries. Most of the ladies in our group went to the extravaganza. The line was very long. By the time they got to select their desserts, there were exactly 3 chocolate covered strawberries left. They were very disappointed. I think they should continue to restock the desserts as long as there are people in line.
Friday was another Sea Day but not as relaxing as Thursday. The day started with the Disembarkation Talk (which a member of every family is supposed to attend). That was preceded by Sea Quest (to attract attendance at the disembarkation talk) and followed by Snowball Bingo. We skipped it all and tried to catch a nap. We spent the afternoon filling out the Cruise Questionnaire and putting together Tip envelopes.
Holland America has a no tipping required policy but we always reward those that provide us excellent service. I like this policy because I get to pick and choose who I tip and how much I tip. We are not cheap. We ended up tipping eleven different people. That's probably why we get such excellent service from waiters that we have met on previous cruises. They remember the people who take care of them.
The show was scheduled before dinner, supposedly for the convenience of the passengers who may want to pack their bags after dinner. I always pack before dinner. Maybe we are in the minority? The show featured Craig Douglas and Paul Lennon. We were late in arriving (because we were packing) and missed Paul Lennon (darn!) and caught part of Craig Douglas' act. After dinner, the Waiters sang a good-bye song, handed out copies of menus, and took pictures with everyone. It is always sad to have the cruise come to an end.
Of course we had to stop in the Casino one last time and try to win all of our money back. Needless to say, we didn't succeed. Then to the Crow's Nest for the final night and then we walked around the ship one last time and took silly pictures with the statues and the cannon. The bags had to be out in the hallway by 1:00 PM; we took care of that between dinner and the Casino.
Wake-up on Saturday is early so we all turned in around 1:30 PM.
Saturday -- Disembarkation... we had #14 so we expected to be waiting around a long time. We were very late in arriving at Ft Lauderdale which delayed the whole process. Delta Air Lines and US Air both have check in on board the ship in Ft Lauderdale which is really convenient. We went to the check in and got our boarding passes and our baggage tags. We had a lot of time before disembarking so we took a look at some of the Verandah Cabins for future reference. Then we hauled our carry on's to the side deck where we waited for our number to be called. Once our number was called we headed to the gangway, turned in our ID Card, Disembarkation Ticket, and Customs Form, and got off the ship. Our luggage was neatly lined up in the section designated by the colored baggage tag we were given. We grabbed our luggage and put the airline baggage tags on them. A Porter loaded a cart with our luggage and we followed him out of the terminal. He took the luggage to the US Air truck and we went to get a taxi. There were plenty of taxis available.
Right before jumping in a cab, we spotted a Hostess that we knew from two previous cruises, Yvette. We had a quick visit with her then took the taxi to the airport. The fare was $11 not counting the tip. Before long we were airborne enroute home dreaming of our next cruise -- probably in the Fall -- Mexican Riviera Cruise aboard the Statendam again!!!
Overall assessment of the cruise
Itinerary... too many ports for my taste. They can forget Trinidad. The other islands are nice (if you like islands).
Cruise Staff... seemed to be short-handed,
didn't see much of them outside of the activities that they hosted. Never saw the Cruise Director except when he introduced or ended a show.
Shipboard activities... there was more than enough for me to do (but I don't like doing activites very much). Some folks probably would have liked to see more activites.
Food... absolutely terrific. Holland America keeps getting better at this aspect of cruising. Dinners and lunches were tremendous but I did notice that they seemed to discourage eating Breakfast and Lunch in the Dining Room. Those meals were only served for one hour each in the Dining Room. They did seem to run out of some things at Breakfast on the last day -- no bacon (they served Turkey Bacon which is not edible!); no chocolate milk; other milk was not available in individual cartons.
Entertainment... nothing to brag about. The bands that played in the lounges were very good. The Shows would be much better if they used live music and live singing. The Rosario Strings and Kemble, the piano player were very entertaining. Perhaps we should spend more of our time being entertained by them and forget the Shows.
Embarkation/disembarkation... excellent, very smooth.
Dennis Margel is from Harrisburg, PA and can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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