Skip to main content

Cruise Ship Review

ms Maasdam - Ship Review provided by Cruise Critic

In the embarkation lounge, my eyes were searching for signs of youth. A Hello Kitty backpack, a stuffed animal, a Game Boy, a mouth full of braces, anything. I was about to begin a seven-night cruise with my husband and our five-year-old son, and even as we'd booked our tickets, the jury was still out on whether Holland America's stately Maasdam was a good choice for a family. I'd done enough research to know that there are plenty of older Holland America devotees who make no bones about the fact that the absence of kids is, for them, a good thing. There are 60-somethings who've said they felt like spring chickens on this line's ships. But I'd heard that demographics were changing, that the late summer season cruises out of Boston would have plenty of family appeal. But Maasdam is a ship whose godmother is June Allyson -- R.I.P. Frankly, I was worried.

Turns out I didn't need to be. While the ship does lack the state-of-the-art facilities and programs offered by lines for whom families are a significant passenger base, Maasdam was just fine. There were enough kids onboard that a certain critical mass was achieved -- but not so many that adults looking for Holland America's brand of sedate-style cruising would be annoyed.

With its mid-sized capacity and classic styling, Maasdam is a manageable and pleasant ship. After thirteen years in service, it has succeeded in retaining its youth -- with a major sweep of contemporary updates just last year -- but has resisted the impulse to act like a teenager. As such, 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 (and not just families at that), with features that include a contemporary alternative restaurant, wireless hotspots and an iPod tour of the aforementioned antiques.

Indeed, there are some of us 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, with an extensive state-of-the-art library, for example. For my little family, it proved to be an enjoyable ship on which to spend a week meandering up the New England coast.

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. You won't go hungry.

The Lido buffet is cheerful and efficient and has great views from 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, we found the lines to be manageable, and there were plenty of available tables. Most days, friendly staff members appeared to carry my son's tray, a touch that went a long way to help avoid calamity.

As with most buffets, Lido is characterized by variety, quantity and quickness -- and quality is sometimes a casualty of this emphasis. But most things were just fine. 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. There is early seating at 5:45 and 6:15 p.m., and "main" seating at 8 and 8:30 p.m.

Editor's Note: In spring 2008, Maasdam will introduce an "As You Wish" dining option, as HAL incorporates flexible approaches to dining across its fleet. The "As You Wish" program will give guests the flexibility to do same-day reservations or even walk-in seating on one level of the Rotterdam Dining Room, while the other level will continue to operate on the traditional fixed-seating plan.

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 are advertised as five-course affairs, but by my count, they are three: appetizer, main course 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.

I was glad to see that there was a kids menu with all the usual suspects: macaroni and cheese, spaghetti, chicken nuggets, pizza, fries. With those staples, the ample bread basket, ice cream and fancy drinks (we started the week with Shirley Temples and got more creative from there, ending with a non-alcoholic something called "Miami Vice"), my young son made it through six nights of dinner in the dining room -- including two formal nights -- without getting squirmy. The crayons and coloring book I smuggled in each night did help.

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, something called "Master Chef's" night that involved a rather silly tossing of salad vegetables, but it never veered too far from its civilized atmosphere. You'll never be asked to dine in a toga (or to look at your waiter in one), but you can don a paper chef's hat for a while or join other guests 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 or the weather or the usual questions about what it's like to work on a cruise ship. In a small gesture that genuinely touched us, our wine steward made origami animals for our young son 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 pleasantly understated, 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. Service was slightly akimbo on our evening at Pinnacle, owing, we learned, to a booking glitch that had the restaurant operating beyond its capacity. I imagine service challenges are not helped by the fact that the kitchen is three flights down on an escalator. We waited longer than we should have for water and bread; some Champagne that had been arranged for us was nearly forgotten; and one dessert arrived long after the other had been eaten. But, ultimately, the food was so good, the ambience so pleasing and the glitches handled with such aplomb by the staff, that ultimately it would go down as a lovely experience. When delays caused our dinner to extend past the hours at Club HAL, where we'd deposited our son for the occasion, the staff invited him to join us for dessert and made him a special sundae -- a nice save, and another example of HAL's winning service.

Public Rooms

The ship's size and layout make for easy orientation. After a short walk around, my husband announced that he had "gotten it down." Basically, the ship is anchored at one end by the two-level Rotterdam Dining Room and at the other by the two-story Rembrandt Lounge, 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 about and read or rest, both in more populated zones (near the pools) and also off the beaten path. My favorite private spot was Deck 9 aft, where it was altogether possible to be alone. Others -- readers, snoozers, and snoozers pretending to be readers -- preferred 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.

Cabins

HAL has a reputation for relatively spacious cabins, and Maasdam bears this out. Our Verandah Suite (284 square ft.) was plenty roomy for our family of three, and it may not be an exaggeration to say we had more closet space per person on this cruise than we do in our New York City apartment. Closets hold extra blankets, some wood and a few satin-wrapped hangers, and a personal safe (along with life jackets).

There are efficiently arranged and relatively spacious standard cabins at197 square ft (outside) and 182 square ft. (inside), and Deluxe Verandah Suites at 563 square ft. And then there's the ultra-deluxe Penthouse Suite, at 1,126 square ft. A half dozen cabins can accommodate passengers with disabilities.

Stateroom decor is pleasingly 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 all cabins configure to two twins or one queen, and the suites have 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 frightfully low-budget cruise ship videos. (How many times, I ask you, should anyone watch the same couple pose for a photo with the captain?)

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. This struck me as just a little bit parsimonious. Seems to me it's the gesture of the fruit basket -- the impression that creates when you enter the room -- that matters more than the option of requesting fruit from an order form.

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 books -- from Rembrandt's drawings to Annie Leibovitz's photographs to Tom Ford's fashions. It's a nice spot and appeared to be under-utilized. (A mere Verandah Deck denizen oblivious to the discreet sign at the door, I managed to help myself to a swan-shaped pastry, flipped through a few books and caught the baseball scores on television before I learned I wasn't entitled to be there. Here, too, the staff had erred on the side of grace.)

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.

Entertainment

By day there is little by way of serious enrichment lectures -- at least on my recent seven-night cruise -- but there was Bridge, Bingo, trivia games, Sudoku, cooking demos, movies, mixology classes or Friends of Bill W. meetings. 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, though they saw relatively little use on our cruise, thanks to consistently superb weather. By the end of a seven-night cruise, the collective efforts of Maasdam's passengers had managed to put together about half of a 3,000-piece puzzle. There's an adjacent card room and several computer/Internet stations (75 cents per minute with volume pricing available). I sat for a few minutes in a reproduction Eames chair and tried out the music listening stations, poking around to test its range: Prokofiev? There. REM? Got it. Soundtrack from Chicago? Check. Barney the Purple Dinosaur? Yep.

New to Maasdam in early 2009 are 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 covered a range of options with no big surprises. On our New England/Canada itinerary, for instance, the Historic New England/Canada coast offerings included Victorian tea, a "Haunted Halifax" tour and sea kayaking with a classic lobster bake. Excursion pricing ranged from $29 for a two-hour walking tour of Halifax to $359 for an interactive "Soldier for a Day" package, with most excursions in the $40 - $90 range. I did find that the "book early" advice was worth heeding. I didn't, and found that by mid-week, many of the most appealing excursions were fully subscribed.

Evening entertainment includes the obligatory casino (where, alas, smoking is still permitted), eight different bars catering to beer-and-baseball moods in Casino Bar, after-dinner drinks and classical strings at the Ocean Bar, or a stiff one and a melancholy round of Bye Bye Miss American Pie at the Piano Bar. Then there was 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. DJ Jazzy did a fair job of trying to rally the crowd with electric slides and trivia contests, but the dance floor seemed to 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 Rembrandt Lounge, fancily 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. The theater was full most evenings, and the applause was generous. My son was enraptured by the shows, and my husband was a good sport (until he could stand no more); I'd say their responses typify the range.

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 that's a magnet for kids. 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, shuffleboard. There is a quarter-mile walking/jogging course on the Promenade Deck (6). (Note: Cabin windows on the Promenade Deck have been outfitted with a reflective film to prevent peeking in.)

Time ran out before I could book a treatment at the Greenhouse Spa & Salon, but the place -- colorful and sensual -- looked inviting, and the menu of services was enticing. Just reading about the "Alpha Massage Capsule Destress Package" or "Nurturing Relaxation Ceremony" made me feel already less stressed, more nurtured and relaxed, while reading "Exotic Coconut Rub" and "Lime & Ginger Salt Glow" made me crave a Margarita. There are nine varieties of massage (plan on dropping $109 - $200 or more), as well as more proletariat salon rituals like haircuts (from $59) and polish changes ($19). There's complimentary fruit and herbal tea, as well as robes and spa sandals and access to the Thermal Suite, a quiet blue and yellow tiled oasis with saunas and whirlpools and aromatherapy showers and heated tile lounges.

Family

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 a $5/hour per child 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 and could be developed a bit more. It tends to skew more toward easy entertainment (PlayStation, Disney movies, coloring, ice cream) than truly imaginative or enriching activities, and more than once, descriptions exceeded the delivery. An "Alien Night" failed to produce much that really related to aliens. And a "Pajama Party" didn't deliver on the advertised "ultimate pillow fight" until one mom (ahem) -- with a disappointed son who'd brought along his own pillow -- spoke up and urged the staff to make good on the promo copy. A quick round of pillow whopping was quickly pulled together.

Club HAL features what I came to call "PlayStation Jail," a windowless room with six or so PlayStation systems, usually occupied by zoned-out boys whose only sign of life was their moving thumbs. I struggled hard to reconcile this with the cruise experience. Then again, my kid's still young. Give me a few years, and I may understand. A teen corner is little more than a corner, but a small gaggle gathered there nightly for music videos, UNO and, probably, nascent flirting.

Private babysitting can be arranged through the front desk. We had no trouble getting someone on a day's notice for the evening of our booking at the Pinnacle Grill, and the staff was gracious about our last-minute cancellation when our son rallied for Club HAL instead of a babysitter. Rates are reasonable: $8 per hour for the first child and $5 per hour for additional children.

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.

Fellow Passengers

Holland America is working to move beyond its reputation as a seniors' line, and there's a special push to appeal to the growing family market -- with an emphasis on Maasdam as one of the fleet's designated family friendly vessels. And if HAL plays its cards right, the younger generations will become as loyal as their parents and grandparents. Shorter itineraries and cruises during school holiday periods tend to attract a higher percentage of younger passengers and families. Of the 1,200-plus passengers on Maasdam's summertime seven-night New England/Canada cruise, about 10 percent were kids, enough for children to find pals and achieve a certain critical mass, but not enough to make it a "kids cruise," which is a good thing.

In the mix of seniors, older couples and multi-generational families, we observed the occasional small gaggle of teens and a few toddlers. There was little evidence of blushing newlyweds or electrically charged young lovers, but plenty of well-worn pairs. Many of the passengers had taken cruises before.

On Maasdam's more traditional sailings, expect a more typical Holland America devotee -- a more senior crowd that appreciates the line's nod toward cruise traditions.

Dress Code

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. (My son wore one of his dad's ties, which, tied just so, and, tucked into his trousers, worked. Sort of.) The rest of the evenings are "smart casual," that conundrum of a description that tends to create more questions than answers (the most obvious one: "What's dumb casual?"), 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.

While Maasdam does try to maintain certain standards, there's the occasional sartorial faux pas: a passenger on Lido Deck in her bathrobe, a few instances of jeans and T-shirts in the dining room. In general, these were graciously overlooked.

Gratuity

Holland America, which many years ago maintained a "no tipping necessary" policy, is now more in-line with other mainstream cruise lines. The line automatically adds $11 per person, per day to onboard accounts, which 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 automatically added to bar bills; note that gratuities are not automatically tacked on to spa treatments.

--by Deborah Bogosian, whose travel stories have appeared in The Washington Post.

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. You won't go hungry.

The Lido buffet is cheerful and efficient and has great views from 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, we found the lines to be manageable, and there were plenty of available tables. Most days, friendly staff members appeared to carry my son's tray, a touch that went a long way to help avoid calamity.

As with most buffets, Lido is characterized by variety, quantity and quickness -- and quality is sometimes a casualty of this emphasis. But most things were just fine. 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 new, 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 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 are advertised as five-course affairs, but by my count, they are three: appetizer, main course 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.

I was glad to see that there was a kids menu with all the usual suspects: macaroni and cheese, spaghetti, chicken nuggets, pizza, fries. With those staples, the ample bread basket, ice cream and fancy drinks (we started the week with Shirley Temples and got more creative from there, ending with a non-alcoholic something called "Miami Vice"), my young son made it through six nights of dinner in the dining room -- including two formal nights -- without getting squirmy. The crayons and coloring book I smuggled in each night did help.

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, something called "Master Chef's" night that involved a rather silly tossing of salad vegetables, but it never veered too far from its civilized atmosphere. You'll never be asked to dine in a toga (or to look at your waiter in one), but you can don a paper chef's hat for a while or join other guests 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 or the weather or the usual questions about what it's like to work on a cruise ship. In a small gesture that genuinely touched us, our wine steward made origami animals for our young son 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 pleasantly understated, 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. Service was slightly akimbo on our evening at Pinnacle, owing, we learned, to a booking glitch that had the restaurant operating beyond its capacity. I imagine service challenges are not helped by the fact that the kitchen is three flights down on an escalator. We waited longer than we should have for water and bread; some Champagne that had been arranged for us was nearly forgotten; and one dessert arrived long after the other had been eaten. But, ultimately, the food was so good, the ambience so pleasing and the glitches handled with such aplomb by the staff, that ultimately it would go down as a lovely experience. When delays caused our dinner to extend past the hours at Club HAL, where we'd deposited our son for the occasion, the staff invited him to join us for dessert and made him a special sundae -- a nice save, and another example of HAL's winning service.

Gratuity

Holland America Line automatically adds $11 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.

--by Deborah Bogosian, whose travel stories have appeared in The Washington Post.

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. You won't go hungry.

The Lido buffet is cheerful and efficient and has great views from 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, we found the lines to be manageable, and there were plenty of available tables. Most days, friendly staff members appeared to carry my son's tray, a touch that went a long way to help avoid calamity.

As with most buffets, Lido is characterized by variety, quantity and quickness -- and quality is sometimes a casualty of this emphasis. But most things were just fine. 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. There is early seating at 5:45 and 6:15 p.m., and "main" seating at 8 and 8:30 p.m.

Editor's Note: In spring 2008, Maasdam will introduce an "As You Wish" dining option, as HAL incorporates flexible approaches to dining across its fleet. The "As You Wish" program will give guests the flexibility to do same-day reservations or even walk-in seating on one level of the Rotterdam Dining Room, while the other level will continue to operate on the traditional fixed-seating plan.

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 are advertised as five-course affairs, but by my count, they are three: appetizer, main course 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.

I was glad to see that there was a kids menu with all the usual suspects: macaroni and cheese, spaghetti, chicken nuggets, pizza, fries. With those staples, the ample bread basket, ice cream and fancy drinks (we started the week with Shirley Temples and got more creative from there, ending with a non-alcoholic something called "Miami Vice"), my young son made it through six nights of dinner in the dining room -- including two formal nights -- without getting squirmy. The crayons and coloring book I smuggled in each night did help.

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, something called "Master Chef's" night that involved a rather silly tossing of salad vegetables, but it never veered too far from its civilized atmosphere. You'll never be asked to dine in a toga (or to look at your waiter in one), but you can don a paper chef's hat for a while or join other guests 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 or the weather or the usual questions about what it's like to work on a cruise ship. In a small gesture that genuinely touched us, our wine steward made origami animals for our young son 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 pleasantly understated, 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. Service was slightly akimbo on our evening at Pinnacle, owing, we learned, to a booking glitch that had the restaurant operating beyond its capacity. I imagine service challenges are not helped by the fact that the kitchen is three flights down on an escalator. We waited longer than we should have for water and bread; some Champagne that had been arranged for us was nearly forgotten; and one dessert arrived long after the other had been eaten. But, ultimately, the food was so good, the ambience so pleasing and the glitches handled with such aplomb by the staff, that ultimately it would go down as a lovely experience. When delays caused our dinner to extend past the hours at Club HAL, where we'd deposited our son for the occasion, the staff invited him to join us for dessert and made him a special sundae -- a nice save, and another example of HAL's winning service.

Gratuity

Holland America, which many years ago maintained a "no tipping necessary" policy, is now more in-line with other mainstream cruise lines. The line automatically adds $11 per person, per day to onboard accounts, which 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 automatically added to bar bills; note that gratuities are not automatically tacked on to spa treatments.

--by Deborah Bogosian, whose travel stories have appeared in The Washington Post.In the embarkation lounge, my eyes were searching for signs of youth. A Hello Kitty backpack, a stuffed animal, a Game Boy, a mouth full of braces, anything. I was about to begin a seven-night cruise with my husband and our five-year-old son, and even as we'd booked our tickets, the jury was still out on whether Holland America's stately Maasdam was a good choice for a family. I'd done enough research to know that there are plenty of older Holland America devotees who make no bones about the fact that the absence of kids is, for them, a good thing. There are 60-somethings who've said they felt like spring chickens on this line's ships. But I'd heard that demographics were changing, that the late summer season cruises out of Boston would have plenty of family appeal. But Maasdam is a ship whose godmother is June Allyson -- R.I.P. Frankly, I was worried.

Turns out I didn't need to be. While the ship does lack the state-of-the-art facilities and programs offered by lines for whom families are a significant passenger base, Maasdam was just fine. There were enough kids onboard that a certain critical mass was achieved -- but not so many that adults looking for Holland America's brand of sedate-style cruising would be annoyed.

With its mid-sized capacity and classic styling, Maasdam is a manageable and pleasant ship. After thirteen years in service, it has succeeded in retaining its youth -- with a major sweep of contemporary updates just last year -- but has resisted the impulse to act like a teenager. As such, 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 (and not just families at that), with features that include a contemporary alternative restaurant, wireless hotspots and an iPod tour of the aforementioned antiques.

Indeed, there are some of us 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, with an extensive state-of-the-art library, for example. For my little family, it proved to be an enjoyable ship on which to spend a week meandering up the New England coast.

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. You won't go hungry.

The Lido buffet is cheerful and efficient and has great views from 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, we found the lines to be manageable, and there were plenty of available tables. Most days, friendly staff members appeared to carry my son's tray, a touch that went a long way to help avoid calamity.

As with most buffets, Lido is characterized by variety, quantity and quickness -- and quality is sometimes a casualty of this emphasis. But most things were just fine. 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 new, 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 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 are advertised as five-course affairs, but by my count, they are three: appetizer, main course 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.

I was glad to see that there was a kids menu with all the usual suspects: macaroni and cheese, spaghetti, chicken nuggets, pizza, fries. With those staples, the ample bread basket, ice cream and fancy drinks (we started the week with Shirley Temples and got more creative from there, ending with a non-alcoholic something called "Miami Vice"), my young son made it through six nights of dinner in the dining room -- including two formal nights -- without getting squirmy. The crayons and coloring book I smuggled in each night did help.

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, something called "Master Chef's" night that involved a rather silly tossing of salad vegetables, but it never veered too far from its civilized atmosphere. You'll never be asked to dine in a toga (or to look at your waiter in one), but you can don a paper chef's hat for a while or join other guests 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 or the weather or the usual questions about what it's like to work on a cruise ship. In a small gesture that genuinely touched us, our wine steward made origami animals for our young son 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 pleasantly understated, 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. Service was slightly akimbo on our evening at Pinnacle, owing, we learned, to a booking glitch that had the restaurant operating beyond its capacity. I imagine service challenges are not helped by the fact that the kitchen is three flights down on an escalator. We waited longer than we should have for water and bread; some Champagne that had been arranged for us was nearly forgotten; and one dessert arrived long after the other had been eaten. But, ultimately, the food was so good, the ambience so pleasing and the glitches handled with such aplomb by the staff, that ultimately it would go down as a lovely experience. When delays caused our dinner to extend past the hours at Club HAL, where we'd deposited our son for the occasion, the staff invited him to join us for dessert and made him a special sundae -- a nice save, and another example of HAL's winning service.

Gratuity

Holland America Line automatically adds $11 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.

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.

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 CÎte 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.

Public Rooms

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.

Cabins

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.

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.

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.

Family

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.

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.

Dress Code

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.

Gratuity

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.

Cruise Critic

Cruise reviews are provided by CruiseCritic.com, an award-winning cruise community and online resource for objective cruise information, published by The Independent Traveler. Copyright 1995-2009, The Independent Traveler, Inc. All rights reserved. Travelocity.com LP neither assumes any liability nor makes any representations with respect to cruise reviews and other content provided by CruiseCritic.com. Before relying on any information in a cruise review, we recommend that passengers confirm the information with the cruise line.