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Cruise Ship Information

MS Maasdam is a Holland America cruise ship named for a dam located on the Maas River in the Netherlands.

She was ordered along with her sisters MS Statendam and MS Ryndam in 1989 from Fincantieri Shipyards. During design of her class there was concern over her ability to meet the strict new SOLAS 90 International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea stability requirements which go into effect in 2010. Her sister, MS Statendam proved to meet these requirements beyond expectations and the additional ballast tanks fitted to the class to provide added stability usually travel void for weight reduction and hence, fuel savings. Her hull design is based largely on that of MS Costa Classica with changes to make it more buoyant as the superstructure of Maasdam and her sisters is much heavier than that of Costa Classica. Maasdam and her sisters have articulated "Hinze" flap rudders, basically a rudder with a small portion of its aft that can be steered in addition to the main rudder, for exceptional maneuverability. When launched her class proved to be one of the world's most technically advanced and optimised cruise ships in the world during sea trials.

Atmosphere on board

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.

Family with Kids/Teens

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.

Past Passenger Programs

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.

Fitness And Spa

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.

Food & Dining

Maasdam's restaurants are the grand Rotterdam Dining Room, the bustling and bountiful Lido buffet, and the intimate and subdued Pinnacle Grill. Add a casual poolside option for burgers and dogs, a coffee bar, and round-the-clock complimentary (and prompt) room service (from hot breakfasts to dinner selections), and dining options are well covered.

The Lido buffet is cheerful and efficient and has great views through floor-to-ceiling windows. Lido serves continental breakfast starting at 6:30 a.m., full breakfast from 7 to 11 a.m.; lunch from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.; and dinner from 6 to 7:30 p.m. (Hours may be adjusted on port days and embarkation/debarkation, so check the daily schedule to be sure.) There are extended hours at Lido for sandwiches, ice cream or special late-night offerings, and coffee and tea are available there at all times. Even at peak times, the lines are manageable, with plenty of available tables. Most days, friendly staff members will carry the trays of youngsters and those with mobility issues, a courteous touch that goes a long way.

As with most buffets, Lido is characterized by variety, quantity and quickness -- and quality is sometimes a casualty of this emphasis. Breakfast options include made-to-order omelets and specialty pancakes, generous servings of bacon or sausage, rather good muesli, and a host of unspectacular pastries. Lunch is hot entrees (pastas, stir fry, fish or chicken), sandwiches, salads and desserts. Dinner includes many of the same choices offered in the Rotterdam Dining Room.

For dinner, the Rotterdam Dining Room, the ship's elegant, two-tier restaurant, is the main event. As you enter, your eyes are drawn upward to the hundreds of Murano glass flowers covering the ceiling, and certainly outward, to the floor-to-ceiling views of the ocean.

In the evening, Holland America Line's As You Wish Dining enables passengers on Maasdam (and all other Holland America ships) to opt for pre-set seating and dining time -- or take advantage of a flexible option (breakfast and lunch are already open seating). One level of the ship's two-deck-high dining rooms will be dedicated to traditional "early or main seating" (usually 6 p.m. and 8:15 p.m. though times could vary based on itineraries) while the other level will be open from 5:15 - 9 p.m. daily. Passengers who choose the flexible option can make reservations ahead of time -- or simply walk in.

Tables range from a limited number of two-tops to eight-top mixed groups, and the ship will generally try to accommodate your seating preferences if you make them known in advance.

Rotterdam's dinners consist of three courses: appetizer, main and dessert. Menu choices include daily chef's specials, plus "Greenhouse Spa" options, vegetarian choices and sugar-free selections among the desserts. (With some advance notice, HAL will try to accommodate special dietary needs such as salt-free, gluten-free, fat-free or baby food.) The food is good but largely falls short of superb. There were some memorable moments -- a chilled avocado and salmon soup, and escargot come to mind -- but many were forgettable ones: chicken or salmon something-or-other and desserts that were somehow less satisfying than their descriptions.

Perhaps addressing this, in the summer of 2011 the cruise line began expanding the common entrees and desserts with specialties provided by HAL's Culinary Council of six acclaimed landside chefs. These new dishes include seared Cajun tuna steak, grilled venison loin with dates, and roasted chicken with sausage cornbread stuffing and an apple cider–chicken gravy. For dessert, additions include brioche toast with caramelized apricot and clove ice cream, and crepes with caramelized pears served with warm raspberry sauce and vanilla ice cream.

Rotterdam also offers a 22-dish, vegetarian-only menu for lunch and dinner; it consists of appetizers, salads, soups and entrees. Options include dishes like portobello mushroom and chipotle quesadillas, Vietnamese vegetable spring rolls or spicy lentil and garbanzo salad.

There is a kids menu with the usual suspects: macaroni and cheese, spaghetti, chicken nuggets, pizza, fries. With those staples, the ample bread basket and ice cream), youngsters usually can make it through six nights of dinner in the dining room -- including two formal nights. Bringing along crayons and coloring book can help the little ones stay occupied.

Maasdam is not heavy on dining room theatrics, but there are a few nods in the theme-evening direction: an Indonesian night with traditional music and dancing, a parade of sparkler-studded Baked Alaska. But you'll never be asked to dine in a toga (or to look at your waiter in one), though you can don a paper chef's hat for a while or join other passengers in a napkin-waving salute to the dining room staff for just a little joie de vivre.

Maasdam's service really shines in the Dining Room -- from the greeter at the ready with the de rigueur squirt of Purell as you enter, to the gentleman offering a piece of candied ginger or dried fig as you exit. Servers remember drink orders, bring extra bread if you like, and graciously indulge in banter about port-day activities, the weather or the usual questions about what it's like to work on a cruise ship. You might even have a wine steward make origami animals for your youngster as if he were a favored nephew.

Editor's Note: The Rotterdam Dining Room also serves a full-service breakfast from 7:30 - 9:30 a.m. and lunch from 12:30 - 1:30 p.m. on some days (check daily schedules). A couple of times a week, there's a late-afternoon Dutch Tea, though I could never imagine, at that hour, how anybody had room for more food, even the daintiest morsels.

Maasdam's progressive alternative restaurant, Pinnacle Grill, is worth the $30 per person surcharge, especially considering what you'd pay for a comparable restaurant experience off ship. Open for dinner plus lunch on some sea days, Pinnacle offers an intimate dining experience (read: limited seating so reserve early), a welcome retreat from the heavily peopled scene in Rotterdam or Lido. The decor is agreeably subdued, with the exception of the colorful glass sculptures by Dutch artist Bernard Heesen. Meals are beautifully presented on Bvlgari china and tables are covered in Frette linens. Stemware is Riedel.

Pinnacle's menu nods to the Pacific Northwest and emphasizes steaks, lamb chops and fish.

One night a week Pinnacle offers "An Evening at Le Cirque," emulating that feel and menu of the recipient of the James Beard Award for restaurant of the year. Pinnacle wait staff will serve on the fanciful orange Le Cirque china used in the three restaurants, for dishes such as Lobster Salad Le Cirque, Sweet Corn Soup and Côte de Boeuf.

While the standard fee for a Pinnacle meal is $30 per person, the Le Cirque event is $39 for the dinner, or $59 for the food and wine flights.

There's more to the partnership: Passengers can learn how to cook a dish or two during special Le Cirque demonstrations in the on-board Culinary Arts Center, and the HBO documentary “Le Cirque: A Table in Heaven” will show on in-cabin television.

A more prominent addition to Maadam's dining options than the new chef's specialties or Le Cirque night is the creation of Canaletto, a casual Italian restaurant open for dinner nightly. It requires just the placement of a few glass partitions in a section of the Lido to define the restaurant. Here waiters clad in the traditional striped shirts of Venetian gondoliers serve dishes such as putanesca and penne alla vodka -- and of course, gelato for dessert. There is no extra charge to dine in Canaletto, but because of the limited seating, reservations are suggested.

Entertainment

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.

Fellow Passengers

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.

Tipping

The ms Maasdam is the third ship to bear the name of the Dutch capital in Holland America Line's over 135-year history. Built at the Fincantieri shipyard in Marghera, Italy, the ms Maasdam blends the very latest in shipbuilding technology with the artistry, personalized touches and superior service that has made Holland America Line one of the highest-rated cruise lines in the world.

Our recommendation

Our crew works very hard to make sure that every aspect of your cruise meets the highest standards. This includes those crew members who serve you directly, such as our dining room wait staff and the stewards who tend to your stateroom each day. There are also many others that tend to your care that you may never meet, such as galley and laundry staff. To ensure that the efforts of all of our crew members are recognized and rewarded, a daily Hotel Service Charge of US$11.50 per passenger for staterooms & US$ 12.00 per person for suite guests is automatically charged to each guest's shipboard account. If our service exceeds or fails to meet your expectations, you are free to adjust this amount at the end of the cruise. The Hotel Service Charge is paid to Holland America Line crew members, and represents an important part of their total compensation package. A 15% service charge is automatically added to bar charges and dining room wine purchases. In terminals, airports, ports of call and on shore excursions, we suggest that you extend gratuities consistent with customary local practices.