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Holland America’s S-class Ships:
Antithetical Asymmetricies

Aboard the Ryndam
(what was to be) Western Caribbean
October 2010

ms Ryndamby 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 as long.

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 hiccup.

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!

Related: Aboard ms Ryndam: Course Correction Hurricane Paula, or being diverted on your cruise(s)

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