ENRICHMENT BEYOND EXPECTATION
It’s funny how sometimes you set your expectations really high, only to be disappointed, whilst other times you can have fairly low expectations and find yourself completely blown away – well the latter was my experience of our most recent cruise aboard Holland America Line ship MS Maasdam.
I chose this cruise based purely upon the route, cost and dates to fit logistically around the other parts of our world tour. I booked it in May 2018 for our sailing in April 2019. As I have said before I was very annoyed to be told just 9 days before we sailed that the kids club ‘Club HAL’ would not be running due to the small number of children sailing. I have subsequently found out that Club HAL was in fact withdrawn several months ago when they decided to use that ship for the EXC In-depth programme, so Holland America Line had months and months to tell me the kids club wouldn’t be running and had I known that in advance I would have either not booked or changed my sailing to another ship.
After I had booked I subsequently started looking at other reviews of the ship online and some of them quite honestly were awful. Former passengers were complaining about the ship being worn and tired, cabins having drainage problems, noisy cabins etc etc. I was seriously beginning to panic but couldn’t afford to lose the amount of money I had already paid out by cancelling.
Hence, when I stepped aboard at Auckland my expectations we pretty low and mentally I was starting to dread the forthcoming 24 days.
Well, I am happy to put my hand up now and say “I was wrong” because without any shadow of a doubt this is the most amazing cruise I have ever done (and I have cruised with most of the more popular cruise lines and and have lost count of the total number of sailings I have made)
For me this was more than a cruise, it was a expedition, and a voyage of discovery in so many ways.
It was the first time I had sailed on a smaller cruise ship and having sailed around New Zealand on Royal Caribbean’s ‘Ovation of the Seas’ just 3 weeks earlier, the Maasdam seemed positively tiny by comparison and I did wonder how a relatively small ship was going to cope with such a large transpacific ocean crossing.
I don’t want to compare these two ships any further in this blog (I may do at a later date) as we had an amazing time on both cruises but they were so different that it would be a bit like asking which one of your children you like best!!! So for now I shall purely stick to reviewing this journey aboard the Maasdam.
Maasdam is as I’ve said a smaller cruise ship, this means that it is able to reach many smaller islands and destinations which the larger cruise ships cannot, or the islands which are unable to handle the vast number of passengers they carry. Due to its more compact size though Maasdam does not have the volume of balcony cabins that other ships do. Therefore this was the first time ever I had ever sailed without a balcony and yes I did miss being able to open the door and sit outside, or having the door ajar at night listening to the sound of the sea, but we quickly got used to our ocean view cabin. The window was larger than I had expected and we actually loved having our bed directly under the window as we could sit up in bed watching the waves and looking up at the uninterrupted view of the stars. Cameron literally spent hours sitting on the window ledge gazing in awe.
Our cabin was always kept spotlessly tidy by our two lovely stateroom attendants Indra & Jupran and whilst I can’t describe the cabin as noisy there was always just a slight background ‘humming’ sound from the engines, I initially thought it was going to drive me crazy but after a while I hardly noticed it.
We had a twice daily cabin service and of course no cruise is complete without the appearance of the odd towel animal! Cameron was delighted to discover a different one every single night for the whole 24 night voyage.
While the Maasdam may not have all the mod cons and opulence of other cruise ships, it did have a more traditional feeling of an older passenger vessel and as I mentioned earlier I very much felt we were going on a voyage rather than a vacation.
The ship is well maintained and certainly at no time did I see any areas which I thought looked tired.
There were several specialty restaurants onboard and their menus looked very appealing, however having a 7yr old son who is an embarrassingly difficult eater we didn’t venture to trying any. Other passengers I spoke to who had eaten in them though all said that the food was very high quality.
I did order Lobster as room service one evening from the Pinnacle Restaurant and I have to say that I wasn’t disappointed!
Most of the time however we ate either in the main Dining Room or the Lido Restaurant. Both of these had excellent service although fairly limited choice of menus. My only main complaint as such is that on other cruises passengers have been able to help themselves to the salad bar which kept the queue moving along fairly quickly as passengers moved from one vegetable to the next. On Maasdam each passenger had to personally be served every chosen ingredient by a crew member causing totally unnecessary queues! Same was similar at some of the other Lido food stations, even the ice cream.
ITINERARY and EXCURSIONS
The itinerary of the cruise was fantastic, I just loved all the islands that we stopped out throughout the South Pacific/ French Polynesia. Sadly due to an itinerary change and my son being ill we only got ashore for 6/10 ports, but what we saw we loved. (The majority of the ports did require us using tender boats to get ashore, so just worth bearing in mind for anyone with mobility problems). For this cruise we did decide to use Holland America Lines shore excursions for all our trips and every one of them was first class. I know cruise lines excursions tend to be more expensive, but having missed a self-booked excursion on another recent cruise due to not being able to get on the tender boats on time I wasn’t going to take any risks this cruise. When I had to cancel a couple of excursions when my son became ill the shore excursions manager Dusan was absolutely excellent in re-selling our tickets and refunding our money.
Although we didn’t experience them ourselves, it is also worth noting that as part of the Maasdams in-depth programme they also carry 4 zodiac boats on the bow of the ship which can be lowered into the water to carry guests to visit tiny coves & outlets etc which other boats would not be able to reach.
SERVICE and CREW
For me it was the crew who truly made this cruise though. I could write pages in praise of each and everyone of them.
Even though there was no kids club running on board and only 4 children on the ship, KK the cruise director laid on activities for the children with egg decorating and an easter egg hunt on Easter Sunday, then along with Lisa the Beverage Manager gave the parents a night off when they took them to dinner and a movie night which I know they all really enjoyed.
KK also took the two older ones up to the bridge to have a look around and meet the Captain, Ryan Whittaker, which I know for Cameron was one of the highlights of his entire cruise.
EXC IN DEPTH PROGRAMME
The EXC In-Depth programme offered on this cruise though really was phenomenal and as a parent who is world schooling my son was an exceptional learning experience. I have already written another blog about this ‘classroom at sea‘ I actually wrote this about half way through the cruise and I have to say that the enrichment programme just got better and better. The lecturers Hilary Scothorn (Polynesian Art History) Filipe Tohi (Pacific Lashing Art/Lalava) Dr Tobias Sperlich (Anthropology) Gloeta Massie (Biology) Al Trujillo (Oceanography & Geology), Alicia Clarke (Photography) Wendy Sherwood (Culinary) along with the Cultural Ambassadors who were with us from Auckland to Papeete, were all truly AMAZING and the programme was expertly put together by onboard EXC In-depth manager Kay Clarke. They say that ‘your vibe attracts your tribe’ and I believe this is true. Despite coming so close to cancelling this cruise, it turned out to be one of the best experiences of my entire life and I met people through the enrichment programme who I believe will now be friends for life.
Proud of his finished artwork.
The last 7 days of this cruise were all at sea and I was really worried that Cameron would get bored, especially given that there was no kids club on board. Nothing could have been further from the truth, he sat through talks and lectures soaking up knowledge like a sponge and asking me so very sensible questions afterwards which reinforced the fact that despite the lectures being aimed at adults I knew he was taking it in. He enjoyed it so much that he didn’t want to get off!!
I probably sound like a stuck record but it would be such an incredible opportunity if Holland America Line considered also offering the in-depth programme to junior explorers so this wonderful world of learning & discovery could be absorbed properly by the younger generation at their own level of understanding. I spoke to several of the onboard lecturers about this and each of them said they would be able to offer this if asked by HAL.
I should also mention the entertainment on this cruise. It was absolutely fabulous, not the usual song and dance troupes which appear on most cruise ships which can get a bit ‘samey’ when you sail a lot (although all highly talented performers). On this cruise the headline shows were all performed by guest entertainers and each one of them were absolutely excellent.
The fabulous TahitiOra came aboard for just one night whilst we were docked in Papeete and provided a spectacular & colourful show of traditional Polynesian dancing & music.
My favourite act though was ‘The Leading Men’ from Australia. Maybe because I am a huge fan of musicals but these 4 talented singers who are each professional leading men’ in their own rights were truly outstanding. (Darryl Lovegrove, James Lee, Toby Francis and Wayne Scott Kermond) Sadly they only got to perform 2 shows onboard which was a great shame as I would have very happily gone to see them every night!! Delighted though to see that they have subsequently used my testimonial in their own advertising – every word was true. SENSATIONAL performers.
So in summary, whilst Maasdam may not be the biggest or best cruise ship out there, this was without any shadow of a doubt the best cruise experience I have ever had and I wouldn’t hesitate to book another voyage with Holland America Line in the future.