Holland America Line spent millions of dollars upgrading its 14-year-old Maasdam. Is the old ship now like new?
She was once young and beautiful, a maiden who dazzled all with her good looks. But time passed, and though the years had been kind to her, she began to show signs of wear. She no longer stole the glances of admirers and passersby. In the presence of younger, prettier and more fashionably dressed girls, the old dame carried on with dignity and grace, but she had lost a bit of her glitter. And so she did what any gal would do to restore her youthful vitality and looks: She went for a makeover.
Built in 1993, Maasdam is the second oldest ship in Holland America Line’s fleet. And while a girl going on 14 may not be old in human years, she is old in cruise ship years. Cruise ships rarely operate more than 25 years, and typically they need ‘mid-life revitalization,’ as ship architects haved coined the term, somewhere around 12 years into their life cycles.
In the spring of 2006, Maasdam, one of four 1,258-passenger ‘S-Class’ ships, cruised into Freeport, Bahamas for a three-week makeover that incorporated the major enhancements in HAL’s $225 million Signature of Excellence initiative. Aside from upgrades to the five areas that HAL says its guests enjoy most – dining, accommodations, service, activities and destinations – SOE, as the initiative is known, also creates a sense of continuity for those who frequently cruise on HAL ships.
And as someone who has cruised on all four of HAL’s Vista-class ships, I felt an immediate familiarity on Maasdam. One of the changes during the ship’s drydock was that the Lido Buffet was upgraded to feature food stations instead of one long buffet line. I walked into the Lido to my favorite dining station, where sushi and Asian food is served on Vista-class vessels. The Asian station wasn’t in the exact location as it is on Noordam and her sisters, but it was nearby. I felt at home.
Public Rooms Upgraded
Maasdam also modernized to include Explorations Cafe – an attractive coffee shop/library/internet center powered by the New York Times, Culinary Arts Center presented by Food & Wine Magazine, refurbished Crow’s Nest observation lounge, and an expanded Greenhouse Spa and Salon, which features more treatment rooms, a thermal suite and hydro-pool, as well as a new spacious fitness facility.
The Youth Center was upgraded with SOE amenities that provide a full youth program for toddlers, tweens and teens. Carpeting was replaced throughout the ship, and the main dining room got new chairs. Of course, the latter additions are part of regular drydocks. Maasdam, like other ships in HAL’s fleet, is upgraded on an annual basis. And it shows. ‘I’ve worked on a lot of ships, and for a ship of this age, she’s the best maintained,’ Julian Brackenbury, Maasdam’s beverage manager, told me over a coffee at Explorations Cafe.
I booked stateroom 620 on Main Deck. The sense of continuity created by SOE is evident here too, with such enhancements in place as plush Euro-top Mariner’s Dream Beds, flat screen wall-mounted LG TVs (which make for more room on the desk), DVD players and deluxe waffle/terry cloth robes. Other items featured in staterooms are magnifying make-up mirrors with halo lighting, massage shower heads, professional hair dryers and complimentary fruit basket.
The Appeal Of A Small Ship
Because Maasdam was built before balconies boomed on ships (the only balconies on Maasdam are in suites), people wanting expansive views of the sea and passing scenery tend to congregate in the lounge and on the outer decks. The absence of balconies is made up for by something Maasdam has that the new megaships do not have: a smaller size. With only 1,258 passengers, Maasdam never felt crowded or crunched, and getting from one end of the ship to the other did not require that you pack a lunch.
HAL’s SOE initiative and its investment in the refurbishment breathed new life into an old dame. The rejuvenated Maasdam got what many wish for: a makeover that she certainly wears well.