Holland America’s S-class
Aboard the Ryndam
(what was to
be) Western Caribbean
by Karen Segboer
How can two cruises on the same
cruise line, both relatively close to home, be so different? When I
stepped onboard the poor
VEENDAM in July
2010 for a trip to Bermuda, I
found that the best part of the aft end had been refurbished into a
mess that lacked a formerly very nice and still very much needed
pool and deck space, plus a relatively new block of cabins ruining
the lines of an otherwise pleasant cruise ship profile.
The RYNDAM, on the other hand, seems to only have been improved upon
over the years during it's various dry dockings, refits and re-decoratings.
It remains a cruise ship with all the right spaces and amenities to
make for a comfortable trip. But herein lies the issue. Someone not
familiar with HAL and their ships needs a deck plan in front of them
and a full compliment of cruise reviews, too. The two ships I cite
here are both S-class HAL ships, the smallest (except for the
PRINSENDAM) of the classes of HAL ships. One has what’s known as
Lanai cabins - cabins that were converted from cabins with picture
window-only into sliding glass doors to the Lower Promenade deck.
So, there’s no balcony, per se, just a communal-type sharing of a
public deck. There’s also a limited number of what are being called
“spa suites” featuring “serenity”, an iPod docking station, and a
yoga mat (!) Some ships in the fleet have lanai cabins or spa
suites, some do not. Some have both. There is not a lot of
information out there about these spa suites, except from the cruise
company’s web site, that they are “offering special spa amenities”.
The RYNDAM has a bit fewer cabins (by ninety) than the VEENDAM,
which had cabins built on when the aft pool area was reconfigured.
The small amount of passengers onboard VEENDAM above RYNDAM at any
given time will not impact your cruise, make you feel more crowded
or affect service.
The ships are, as are all the ships in the HAL fleet, competently
run, cleanly kept and in excellent working order. The RYNDAM is from
the mid-1990s with a major re-fit in 2004, so there is no three deck
plus-atria, no majestic interior spaces. According to today’s
standards, it’s a mid-size ship at approximately 55,000 tons. The
RYNDAM also has Holland America's "Signature of Excellence" program
of enhancements, which includes the fleet’s five most popular ships
and means extensive dry docks to create new venues, new staterooms,
new décor, more choices. Some of this has already been realized with
the implementation of the lanai and spa cabins.
Club HAL Kids Center ran so well that, at the end of our trip, when
cruise director Drew mentioned at the disembarkation talk “not
seeing, hearing or smelling” any children, I could completely agree.
The only time we knew there were kids onboard was when a small
supervised group rounded a deck space on their way from somewhere to
somewhere else, then quickly disappeared.
The ship, as always, has Indonesian and Fillipino crew plus
international officers, mostly Dutch. In my opinion, this is what
makes HAL so special.
We had a deluxe suite this trip, with all the space and amenities
that come with it. In our cabin upon arrival we found a note
welcoming us back to HAL and indicating they were aware of some
small grievances we had on our last trip with them, so small as to
be completely forgotten by me by now. Besides, I'm always cranky by
the time I have to disembark, when it's time to fill out those
endless surveys for the cruise lines. I'm remembering one we did
once for (I think it was) the CRYSTAL SYMPHONY. My SATs were shorter
and took less time to do. This time was no different and took just
The passenger mix onboard RYNDAM was very different, too, and this
illustrates once again how choosing the right time and place for
your cruise, as well as the right ship and the right place on your
ship, is paramount. VEENDAM out of New York City in the middle of
July meant plenty of kids, first-time cruisers, and partiers, if
that’s okay with you. RYNDAM out of Tampa meant mostly seniors and a
few younger honeymooners looking for an interesting, yet short and
close-to-home, itinerary. Many people onboard were from the greater
Tampa area, just like the VEENDAM cruise in July to Bermuda
contained many metro- NY/NJ/Connecticut cruisers. Curiously enough,
we missed any bad weather on our way to and from Bermuda during
hurricane season, but on RYNDAM we were about to head right into a
rapidly forming tropical storm, soon-to-be hurricane Paula, on our
way down to a western Caribbean trip. You just never know and can
never predict weather and how it will affect your vacation. Some
things you just cannot do, no matter how good you are at planning
vacations. Deck plans and cruise reviews just don’t do it all.
Three cheers for Captain Smit. He kept us away from Hurricane Paula,
took us to some other rather nice places - I enjoyed the
alternatives, except for Nassau in the Bahamas (I’m not a fan), and
got to see a bit of Grand Turk, an island I had never been to
before. In fact, on the way back to Tampa and while the storm
flirted with the island of Cuba, we took the Bahama Straits,
relatively far from the rain, high seas and wind, and had a
comfortable ride back to our home port. We arrived in Tampa on time
for our flight back home again and even though we saw no expected
Mayan ruins or jungles on this trip, we were safe. The crew and
staff turned the original itinerary around on a dime, had new port
and excursion info ready within hours of announcing the major change
of plans. Most of the passengers, while probably as disappointed as
I was, never complained (although I’m sure a few did) and were okay
with the new ports. It’s that whole “make lemonade when given
lemons” philosophy that can keep you sane on a vacation with a
Just a few tips when picking out a cabin location on RYNDAM or any
other similar S class ship - On Navigation Deck, where our suite was
located, we heard a lot of noise from above, which was the Lido Deck
and the pool area. At certain times of the day or night, especially
when there was an event or activity scheduled for that area, there
was a lot of "dragging" noises (chairs, tables, etc) . For our next
trip, we booked a suite without any obvious disturbances from above.
Once again, it pays to study those deck plans very carefully.
HAL is no different from other cruise lines in that it wants as much
onboard revenue as possible. Having said that, it was unusual to
find a lack of staff in the various onboard shops to help
passengers. By "help" I mean check us out/take our money. Not enough
staff or not enough staff who cared, I'm not sure.
Internet access on our trip was miserable, so much so that we asked
for and received much of our pre-paid minutes back. It just wasn't
worth it to try anymore. This concerned me as I have a need to keep
in touch with home, as I’m sure many travelers do. In fact, many
people do not go away at all if they cannot continue to be
connected. The Internet service onboard RYNDAM was about as good (or
bad, depending on how you’re looking at this) as the SS NORWAY was
ten years ago. VEENDAM to Bermuda in July wasn’t much better. From
discussing this with other folks on last week’s trip, I discovered
many other ships out there have this Internet thing down pat. As of
yet, HAL does not on these ships.
Would I sail on HAL again? Of course. I’m already booked on
ROTTERDAM for next July, sailing New York to Rotterdam. I have tentative
plans to do this same western Caribbean itinerary again very soon on
the RYNDAM, when hurricane season has come and gone, maybe early in
the new year. In fact, I’m once again becoming increasingly devoted
to those dam ships!
Aboard ms Ryndam:
Hurricane Paula, or being diverted on your
Holland America Line
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