With its mid-sized capacity and classic styling, Holland America's stately Maasdam is a manageable and pleasant ship. After eighteen years in service, it has succeeded in retaining its youth -- with a major sweep of contemporary updates in both 2006 and the spring of 2011 -- but has resisted the impulse to act like a teenager. As such, the 1,258-passenger Maasdam has retained some of the traditional sensibilities that appeal to its older audience base -- high tea, formal nights, ballroom dancing and displays of antiques -- while adding elements to appeal to younger audiences. Such newer features include two contemporary alternative restaurants, wireless hotspots, three new hip specialty bars and an iPod tour of the aforementioned antiques.
Indeed, there are some who say hats off to Maasdam for resisting some of the more radical trends of the behemoth ships (no surfing wave simulators or rock-climbing walls here), while stepping ahead on other fronts. Case in point is the ship's state-of-the-art, New York Times-branded Explorations Cafe, a combination library and digital fun room for the over 50 set (think touch-screen interactive maps, over-sized crossword puzzles).
Its latest refurbishment, in April 2011, was part of HAL's $560 million Signature of Excellence initiative focused on modernizing its oldest ships. Along with new carpets, upholstery and soft goods, Maasdam gained three major features: a dinner-only Italian restaurant, two new kinds of cabins, and the Mix Lounge, a three-in-one bar central with each venue offering a specific type of drink and each flowing into the others. The new additions -- especially the alternative restaurant and bar area -- help up Maasdam's "hip factor" without detracting from any of the ship's classic charm.
The ship's size and layout make for easy orientation. Basically, the ship is anchored at one end by the two-level Rotterdam Dining Room and at the other by the two-story Showroom at Sea, with most public facilities grouped mainly in the middle on Decks 6, 7, and 8. Lido Deck is 11, with the gym, spa, kids club and sports deck topping out on 11 and 12.
There are plenty of spaces on the decks to lounge, read or rest, both in more populated zones (near the pools) and also off the beaten path. For a little privacy, check Deck 9 aft, where it is possible to be alone. Other passengers -- readers, snoozers, and snoozers pretending to be readers -- prefer the teak lounges around the Promenade deck, all facing the sea, which can be equally quiet.
Maasdam's public spaces showcase a collection art and antiques that reflect HAL's Dutch seafaring lineage -- a 19th-century wooden sculpture of a yawner (Gaaper, in Dutch), a gilded side table from 18th-century Italy, a canon barrel from the 14th century. But one of Maasdam's most notable art pieces is quite contemporary -- the towering glass sculpture by Luciano Vistosi that rises three levels from the Atrium, providing a dramatic visual axis for the public spaces.
HAL has a reputation for relatively spacious cabins, and Maasdam bears this out. There are efficiently arranged and relatively spacious standard cabins at 197 square feet (outside) and 182 square feet (inside). For a touch more space, a typical Verandah Suite (292 square feet) is plenty roomy for a family of three, with ample closet space. Closets hold extra blankets, some wood and a few satin-wrapped hangers, and a personal safe (along with life jackets).
The Deluxe Verandah Suites clock in at 556 square feet. And then there's the ultra-deluxe Penthouse Verandah Suite, at 1,159 square feet. A half dozen cabins can accommodate passengers with disabilities.
While the spring 2011 multi-week drydock updates included new carpeting, premium Sealy mattresses, bed linens, towels, and new vanities and cabinets in the bathrooms for all cabins, HAL also created two new kinds of cabins on the Maasdam:
Sixteen cabins -- in the previous Verandah Suite, Outside and Inside categories and located near the Greenhouse Spa -- were converted into Spa Staterooms. Touches include a yoga mat, a small, trickling water fountain on the counter near the bed, special room-service menus and even up-market bathrobes.
And 29 197-square-foot Lanai cabins were added to Maasdam during the re-fit. These cabins are on the Lower Promenade deck and feature sliding glass doors onto that (public) round-the-ship walkway. (The doors feature a mirrored coating that preserves the cabins' privacy.) Deck chairs outside these cabins are reserved for their occupants.
Cabin decor throughout the ship is understated: framed nautical maps, light wood and neutral color schemes, variable lighting. Inside cabins have a trompe l'oeil lighting effect -- a light behind a curtain where there might otherwise be a window -- a nice try.
Beds in non-suite accommodations configure to two twins or one queen. Suites have king beds and a convertible sofa bed that makes a comfortable additional single. There are DVD players and flat-screen televisions running movies, vintage sitcoms (Green Acres, Gilligan's Island), documentaries, navigational stats and endless re-runs of shows of the cruise ship videos.
In-room fridges are filled with a variety of beverages -- you take it, you buy it. Alas, the complimentary in-cabin fruit basket has given way to a card on which to mark your order for the fruit you might like to have.
Verandahs have a padded chaise, a faux rattan chair, and a table just large enough for a drink or a magazine, but probably not both. Deluxe Verandah Suites on Deck 10 have double-wide verandahs (two chaise lounges plus a table with four chairs), and the rooms themselves feature modern curved sofas, glass-topped coffee tables, a bathroom with a separate vanity area, granite bars and marble floors. Guests in Deluxe Verandah Suites and the Penthouse Suite enjoy use of the exclusive Neptune Lounge, featuring a coffee/cappuccino machine and cold beverages, hors d'oeuvres and sweets throughout the day, as well as wing chairs, a substantial table for dining or game playing, a large fresh flower arrangement, and its own library of premium art.
Bathrooms in all cabins have tubs with showers, except inside cabins, which have showers only. Toiletries include shampoo, conditioner, two kinds of soap, shower gel and body lotion. The brand is "Elementi," the same citrusy/herbal line used in the ship's spa. There are retractable clotheslines in the bathtubs (handy for drying swimsuits) and in-bathroom hair dryer, plus a second hair dryer near the desk/vanity in the suites.
Dry cleaning and laundry service are available for a fee (complimentary for guests in Deluxe Verandah Suites), and there are two onboard laundry facilities (with irons/ironing boards) if you decide you need to do a small load or two to get you through.
By day there is little by way of serious enrichment lectures. But there is Bridge, Bingo, trivia games, Sudoku, cooking demos, movies and mixology classes. Poolside bands add a festive air on sea days and sailaways.
Throughout the day and evening, The New York Times-sponsored Explorations Cafe is an active hub. It holds over 2,000 books (fiction, literature, travel, history, Harry Potter), plus a host of periodicals and a DVD library (complimentary for passengers in Deluxe Verandah Suites; modest charge for others). There are touch-screen interactive maps, write-on/wipe-off crossword puzzle tables, and a cubby of games and puzzles. There is an adjacent card room and several computer/Internet stations. (It's $.75 per minute to surf the Web; plans are available that bring the cost down to $.40 a minute.) Or you can sit for a few minutes in a reproduction Eames chair and try the music listening stations, poking around to test its range: Prokofiev? There. REM? Got it. Soundtrack from Chicago? Check. Barney the Purple Dinosaur? Yep.
Maasdam offers offers the Microsoft Digital Workshops, complimentary classes led by Microsoft-trained "techsperts." Passengers can learn to use computers to enhance photos (Windows Live Photo Gallery), produce and publish videos onto a DVD (Windows Movie Maker) and create personal webpages or blogs (Windows Live Services and Windows Live Writer). In addition, one-on-one coaching, called "Techspert Time," is available for more than 20 hours each week.
Maasdam's shore excursions cover a range of options. Depending on where the ship is sailing, look for a mix of historic tours, beach-focused excursions, moderately active eco-adventures and sightseeing trips.
One of the major updates during the dry dock was the removal of the Piano bar and the Casino bar (with its TV's tuned to sports). The resulting space was re-structured to form the chi-chi Mix Lounge -- three adjacent bars, with no walls between them. One of the bars serves only champagne, one only serves martinis, the third serves only beers and top-shelf liquor. A solo musician, singer or small combo performs during evening hours in Mix, where the table tops can be used for interactive games or to signal the waiter for another round.
Then there is the scene at the Crow's Nest (Deck 12), the ship's modish disco, with loud music and louder lighting effects and even louder curvy hot pink sofas, a DJ, electric slides and trivia contests. But the dance floor can be mainly populated by off-duty staff members: pretty spa ladies and cast members from the musical revue. (Scene-watching of a different sort takes place in Crow's Nest during the mornings and afternoons, when it's a spectacular perch for ocean viewing.)
Ah, the shows. Yes, there are the standard cruise ship musical extravaganzas, magic shows and comedians. These take place in the main show room where the seating has been changed (as part of the 2011 dry-dock) to provide better sight lines; the room is now named the Showroom at Sea. It is done up in Delft tiles, brass and Mahogany, metallic fabric wall covering, ship-print carpeting, and settees and sofas in lieu of standard auditorium seating. Shows occur twice nightly to accommodate both early and late diners.
Holland America Line automatically adds $11.50 per person, per day, to onboard accounts; this is then shared among waiters, stewards and other service personnel. That amount can be adjusted in either direction by visiting the front desk. A 15 percent gratuity is tacked on to bar bills. Note that gratuities are not automatically included on bills for spa treatments.
Maasdam's Club HAL facility is clearly an after thought, compact and low slung. It operates on at-sea days and on a limited basis (pre-registration required) during port days, and in the evenings from 7:30 - 9:30 p.m. Kids can stay for "After Hours" activities until as late as midnight, with an hourly charge after 9:30 p.m. Programs are geared to Kids (ages 3 - 7), Tweens (8 - 12), and Teens (13 - 17). There's a sign-in/sign-out sheet and "password" system for pick-up for the youngest group, but Tweens and Teens come and go as they please.
Club HAL's programming is modest. It tends to skew more toward easy entertainment (PlayStation, Disney movies, coloring, ice cream) than truly imaginative or enriching activities. And more than once during my cruise, descriptions exceeded the delivery: An "Alien Night" failed to produce much that related to aliens. And a "Pajama Party" didn't deliver on the advertised "ultimate pillow fight" until one mom urged the staff to make good on the promo copy.
Club HAL features a windowless room with six or so PlayStation systems, usually occupied by zoned-out boys whose only sign of life is their moving thumbs. A teen corner is little more than a corner, but a small often gathers there nightly for music videos, UNO and, probably, nascent flirting.
Private babysitting can be arranged through the front desk. In the late-night program at Club HAL, from 10 p.m. til 1 a.m., it is $5 per child, per hour. If there is sufficient staff available who want to babysit away from the Club, its $10 per hour for the first child, then $7 per hour for each additional child.
Editor's Note: All children on under age 12 are required to wear a special band on their wrists or ankles that identifies their designated lifeboat station.
While Holland America is working to move beyond its reputation as a seniors' line, and Maasdam is one of the fleet's designated family friendly vessels, the average age on the cruise line's 15 vessels is about 57. Shorter itineraries and cruises during school holiday periods tend to attract a higher percentage of younger passengers and families. On Maasdam's non-summer and longer sailings, expect a more typical Holland America devotee -- a more senior crowd that appreciates the line's nod toward cruise traditions.
Two nights in seven are designated as formal nights in the dining room. For the majority of men, this translates as dark suits (there are some tuxes), and for women, the range was from the little black dress to larger, longer, more colorful affairs.
Editor's Note: You can order "formal night" options from the ship in advance, or even buy them from the shops. (They're cheaply made "mother of the bride" looks, but they'll do in a pinch.)
Dress codes apply to kids, too. On formal nights, the girls were adorable in their "fancy" dresses; most boys wore, if not suits, than at least shirts with ties. The rest of the evenings are "smart casual," that conundrum of a description that tends to create more questions than answers but in general means slacks or skirts for women and khakis and polo shirts or button-downs for men. Jeans, tank tops and pool attire are discouraged from public areas.
|Fitness and Recreation|
The fitness center is open daily from morning to night and has a range of equipment and activities -- from Pilates to weight machines and the various climbing and biking simulators -- all with views on the sea. Maasdam has two modestly sized pools: a saltwater pool on the Neptune Deck (10) and the fresh water Lido Pool with its sculptural trio of dolphins. The Lido pool is flanked by two hot tubs and can be sheltered by a retractable cover to keep rain and/or intense sun rays out. On the "Sports Deck" (12), there's a serviceable basketball court, tennis and shuffleboard. There is a quarter-mile walking/jogging course on the Promenade Deck (6). (Note: Lanai Cabin windows on the Promenade Deck have been outfitted with a reflective film to prevent peeking in.)
The Greenhouse Spa & Salon -- colorful and sensual -- looks inviting, and the menu of services is enticing: the "Alpha Massage Capsule Destress Package", "Nurturing Relaxation Ceremony", "Exotic Coconut Rub" and "Lime & Ginger Salt Glow". There are several varieties of massage (plan on dropping at least $100), as well as more proletariat salon rituals such as haircuts and polish changes. There's complimentary fruit and herbal tea, as well as robes and spa sandals. Some treatments come with complimentary access to the Thermal Suite, a quiet blue and yellow tiled oasis with saunas, whirlpools, aromatherapy showers and heated tile lounges. For everyone else, the Thermal Spa can be accessed for $40 a day, or $150 for a seven-night cruise.
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