My cruising backgound since 2012. Celebrity 6, HAL 4, RCI 3, Carnival 1, Princess 1, MSC 1.
I titled this review "A New Winner" because HAL is my new favourite cruise line, previously Celebrity. It was a close call and HAL was preciously my 2nd favourite. So why the new winner? I have found, in the past, the two lines to be comparable, the defining point was the food on this cruise - I could not fault it. Anyway, here's how my 5th NZ cruise went.
Why 5 NZ cruises? This one was because my travelling companion had not previously cruised NZ. She had preciously visited the south island but not the north. We organised a 7 day, pre-cruise tour, of the north island by rental car and staying at pre-booked motels.
The itinerary for this cruise was fairly standard NZ except for the inclusion of Oban on Stewart Island off the southern point of the south island. As it turned out, weather prevented going ashore there.
We boarded in Auckland after doing a morning Segway tour of Devonport. We breezed through boarding procedure, no delays or hassles. Our cabin was ready so we dumped our carry-on stuff and went to meet up with a friend couple who had joined us for this cruise.
My initial impression of Maasdam was that it was, obviously, and older ship but in excellent condition. It has been very well maintained and no excessive wear and tear evident. Decor was tasteful but a little dated, no problems there the same for our cabin. More on that below.
We my companion and our two friends chose anytime dining, which turned out to be about 7.30 each night later than I prefer but suited us better as earlier dining clashed with happy hour and trivia. We tried the main dining room breakfast one day only but preferred the Lido. Lunch was always in Lido. The Lido was great, plenty to choose from with a different roast each day and plenty of variety of other foods and desserts, including ice cream. There was plenty of fresh fruit daily, apples, oranges, bananas, plums, peaches, cherries and strawberries! There was also a lido special seafood lunch with king prawns, lobster, small crayfish, mussels etc. There was plenty to go around. We only had one dinner in the Lido and were quite happy with that too but the offerings in the MDR were so good. We never had a problem finding somewhere for the four of us to eat in the Lido. It was often very busy but seating was not a problem. Another plus, for some, is that most of the food was served to you. Less chance of guests needlessly handling stuff. No problems or delays ordering drinks, staff were quick to offer tea, coffee etc.
MDR. This was a deal breaker. Maasdam was truely excellent in service, quality and variety. Up until now Celebrity (IMHO) pipped HAL by offering a little more variety. Celebrity have, of late, cut back an variety to the same level as HAL so it came down to the food itself. I can say, for the first time, I did not have one dish I could not say I was unhappy with. There was usually more than one dish in each course I would have liked. All dished I ordered were done pretty much to perfection. Presentation, quality ingredients, serving temperature were all great. A couple of the steaks served up to us were a touch overdone to what was ordered but not enough to spoil their enjoyment. Serving of courses was not rushed nor dragged out. The seemed to come out when we were ready. Only one of our group returned a meal in the 12 days and that was only because it was not what she thought it was, nothing to do with the cooking.
We had an excellent meal in Sel de Mer. No complaints there.
Entertainment. If anyone has read previous Maasdam reviews they will already know that there are no production shows. And we didn't miss them. There were entertainers and the ones were saw (we didn't see them all) were all good to great. A professional dance couple (G), impressionist (VG) and a special mention for singer/guitarist Patrick McMahon who I have seen on two previous cruises and he never fails to impress with his energetic (understatement) and very entertaining performing. Renditions of Neil Diamond, Johnny Horton, Willie Nelson, songs, among others. I think "Copperhead Road, has become his signature song.
My days were filled in with (excellent) Microsoft workshops, I have done these on previous cruises and always learn something new, trivia (usually two a day in the Crows Nest which seemed to coincide with Happy Hour - buy one drink and get another the same for an extra $2. There was a slight American bias in the questions but there were also New Zealand and Australian ones thrown in as well. We did reasonably well. Spent time playing 500 too. We didn't have a deck of cards with us but on enquiring at guest services if we could by some, we were given a deck. Cool.
Weather. Blessed, as they say, with good weather almost every day. Goldilocks weather, not too hot, not too cold, just right. Had a little rockin' and rollin' between Oban and Fiordland with a few bumps in the night but it lulled us off to sleep. Only moderate swell across the Tasman and Bass Strait. We were able to enter Fiordland and had great weather with a little wind. My fourth time here and it never fails to impress.
Tours. We didn't do any ship tours. We did one pre booked, one booked on arrival in port and another self guided. I also spent a little time geocaching in port.
Disembarking. Due to the Coronavirus the NSW government required that we do a self assessment and complete a form to describe any respiratory issues. It struck us as odd that this was done in Sydney but we could wander around Eden the day before without it.
We had a total immigration check, guests and crew, before getting off in Hobart. This all went very smoothly causing little delay, unlike US immigration last November in Puerto Rico that was a debacle going overtime by two hours or more and ending in fist fights among people wanting to reboard.
Other stuff. Well stocked games room and library. A room for bridge players. Comfy bars that never seemed too crowded. Two promenade decks. Deck tennis and ping pong available. Plenty of loungers around main pool and no lounger hogging. Cruise Director was great as was the Captain who was visible around the ship at times. Friendly crew, always a smile and hello in passing. There's probably other stuff I've forgotten but nothing of any consequence.
Quite roomy once the double bed was split into two singles which gave us useful cabin space. Also there was a double fold-out sofa which would have made it very cramped for 4 in a cabin but, as there were only two of us, no problem. Room was clean and in excellent order. Bathroom was a little small but had a shower over bathtub. It was a very high step to get in the shower. No problem for me at 6'1" but my companion at a tad under 5'2' got a bruise on her leg trying to step over one time - not happy. Counter space was adequate but not a lot of above counter top storage. It was enough for us. There was a magnetic devise to hold the door open in rougher seas which was handy when visiting the bathroom at night. Only real complaint was the size and positioning of the TV. The screen was a bit small for reading subtitle text but worse was using the remote from the bed. The shelf on which the TV is mounted is too wide and blocks the signal from the remote to the TV sensor. I had to do the channel changing as I had the longer arms to hold the remote up high to clear the sensor blocking shelf. A big plus is the DVD player and free movie DVDs (which we didn't have time to use). Only a single power outlet but that was no problem as I brought my Aldi power unit which has interchangeable international plugs giving two Oz power outlets and four USB charging slots.
Pre booked a Maori Cultural Experience in Rotorua with Viator. We, four of us, were picked up at the dock along with two others. The tour was available to other guests to book on arrival but no one did. On route to Rotorua we visited a Kiwi Fruit orchard. Tasted Kiwi fruit products and had Kiwi fruit ice cream (included). I bought some Kiwi fruit dark chocolate. Yum. Had a scenic stop at a waterfall and site of early geothermal power station. The Maori Cultural Experience took place at Te Puia geothermal park where there are hot, bubbling, mud pools geysers etc. Our guide is able to predict when then main geyser was about to blow and he is rarely wrong as he had learned to interpret the signs. The Cultural Experience involved going to the Maori Marae, meeting place, where one of our group was selected to represent the visitors at an invitation ceremony involving a Haka and gift offering ceremony by the chief. The gift was accepted by our 'leader' and, having been accepted as coming in peace, we were invited into the marae to watch a performance of Maori singing. Males from the audience were invited on stage to learn how to do a Haka war chant. Great fun and a privilege. Our guide/driver was a born and bred Kiwi pakeha and a great raconteur.
We did a walking tour here. Went to the local museum to watch a film about the earthquake that mostly destroyed Napier in 1931. The town was rebuilt in Art Deco style of the period and mostly preserved ever since.
Took the historic cable car up to the Botanic Gardens then walked back to the CBD. Found an excellent pub/restaurant on the waterfront where we had an excellent lunch. Strolled along the waterfront which was a hive of activity as it was New Zealand's annual national Day holiday.
Booked a dockside scenic bus tour of Akaroa and its environs. Stopped at a pub for coffee and a good spot to take in the views.Also stopped at a cheese making establishment. I bought some delicious cheese. On return to Akaroa we were, at our request, dropped off at the Giant's House. There was and admission charge and it looked like it would be a great visit for kids, but not for us, so we walked back to town and had a fish and chip lunch, of course. Also visited the small interesting lighthouse.
Only rainy day of the cruise but only late in the day. We booked a Larnach Castle tour dockside at the reception centre where there was lots of tours on offer. The castle is very interesting with a sad history. Afterwards we went to historic Olveston Home. This was most interesting, a step back in time. This home is unrestored and pretty much the way it was when built, with an interesting family history. Put this on your must see list for Dunedin.
Here we bought ferry tickets to MONA, Museum of Old and New Art. This could be a fascinating visit for some but was a bit lost on me as I'm not into art all that much. My friends liked it a lot. The ferry, a fast catamaran, to the museum takes about 25 minutes. There is a bar and barista on board.
An quaint(?), typically Australian, country town by the sea. Here is the location of Eden Killer Whale Museum. This is a must see if visiting Eden. Here you can spend a couple of hours and learn about the history of whaling in the district and, especially, the story about Old Tom a killer whale (Orca) who led a pod of killer whales that herded other whales for the local whalers to kill in return for the prize of getting to eat the tongues and lips of their catch. There were markets open and I bought a few old 45s, for my collection, from an antique shop.
My companion and two friends did an escorted, two and a half hour, Segway tour of Devonport on the morning of departure. This was pre-booked with Magic Broomstick Tours, Devonport. This was my third Segway tour here but a first for my friends all aged 70+. They loved it. Pre tour tuition was provided. Devonport is a 10 minute ferry ride across from the ferry dock alongside Maasdam.