Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Another grey day

I had to go to Portsmouth for work today, so I took my camera with me, although I wasn't going to get too much opportunity to use it, and it was another crap summ..sorry, I won't use that word in connection with the past few months again as it is patently obviously a misnomer...it was another crap day in the middle of the period between spring and autumn. There were a few ships around - the container port at Southampton was busier than it had been for a while with the new UASC ship Jebel Ali leaving (missed her, unfortunately, although I did see her in the distance yesterday, on her way in), Hamburg Express leaving (missed that one, also), and Hyundai Smart (another of those new ones with the accommodation located forward), CMA CGM Callisto and OOCL Kuala Lumpur all arriving.
I did manage to get pics of CMA CGM Callisto and OOCL Kuala Lumpur, the latter miles away, as they made their way up the Solent towards Southampton.

I photographed St. Helen approaching Fishbourne

Sunday, 5 August 2012

A visit to Holland America Line's Maasdam

A few months ago my friend Patricia Dempsey sent me a link to apply for a ship visit to Holland America Line's cruise ship Maasdam. I applied, got a place, and duly went over to Southampton at a disgustingly early hour on Thursday 2nd August. 0715 is not an hour that usually exists for me, and being surrounded by be-suited individuals reminded me that some people have to get up that early every day! It reminded me why I work part time, which I can just about afford to do (ok, the truth is that the real reason I work part time is because full-time work is as rare as hen's teeth these days, thanks to the bankers).
I met Patsy at Town Quay and, after taking some photos of the ship arriving, we made our way round to the Ocean Terminal. We were aboard on time at 1000. The confirmation email which I got the week before stated that the dress of the day was to be 'elegantly casual', with no jeans, t-shirts or shorts to be worn which seemed to me to be a bit odd, especially as the passengers were wearing all sorts of outfits, it's not an office outing! As long as your arse isn't hanging out of your jeans and you don't have an offensive t-shirt on, then you should be able to wear anything within reason.
I wore my usual office/general 'smart-casual' clothes of black trousers and a black jumper (but I have to admit to having an anti-religion t-shirt on beneath my jumper... ;-) ), while Patsy also wore black trousers, although she hadn't read the info and had a t-shirt on, so she didn't remove her jacket for the duration of the tour although I think she needn't have worried because while most people did as the email requested, some didn't, including a bloke in a denim shirt and jeans and a scruffy lad in his early 20s wearing a checked lumberjackshirt with sleeves rolled up, cut-off shorts and trainers, so it wouldn't have mattered anyway! There was also a woman with two small children in tow, not a time or place for children I wouldn't have thought.
Maasdam, the fifth ship of the name, is not too large at 55,575 gt, with a capacity of 1258 passengers and, externally, is a lovely-looking ship, much different from the more modern 'floating apartment blocks' such as the Vista-class or Grand-Princess-types of ships and, for me, she (and her sisters) rivals the lovely Oriana in looks. What would she be like internally?
My impression of her was of a very dark, but very comfortable, ship. On boarding, we entered an area which was very yellow. My friend Andrew Sassoli-Walker said that the yellow lighting reminded him of nicotine stains! He was right, and I would have said it was a bit bilious as well but then yellow, along with pink, is a colour I don't like anyway. However, once we were clear of that area, the decor and lighting improved.

It was a self guided tour so we began at the top and worked our way down. As the ship was mid-cruise and fully booked, no cabins were available to view, although we did manage to peek through a couple of open doors as stewards were changing linen and cleaning. What we did see looked large and very comfortable.
The first place we visited was the Crow's Nest, a pleasant bar area with forward views. There were some large reclining chairs in the forward part of the lounge which made me think of dentists' chairs, a reminder of the horrors of the dentist, which particular pleasure I have in a couple of weeks' time - worse when I know I am going to lose a dead back molar because the root canal has failed. :-(

From the Crow's Nest we headed out on deck. The Sky Deck (Deck 14) above the Crow's Nest was metal and very slippery in the rain. My shoes were rubber soled and non-slip but Patsy wasn't so lucky, although she managed to avoid going a-over-t! As you can see from the photos, the vile rainy crap weather has returned - we got chatting to a couple of the passengers and they said that they have had about three days of sunshine for the entire cruise, since setting off from Boston in mid-July. I told them it was the worst summer for a couple of hundred years, and it is not normally this dire in Europe during the summer months.

We stopped by the Sports Deck (Deck 12) and walked round to the stern deck areas. There were volleyball nets set up, presumably these can double as tennis nets, as it looked as they could be lowered if needed. Nets covered the deck to prevent errant balls from joining Davy Jones' collection.

Next, it was down to the Lido Deck (Deck 11); there were some lovely internally-illuminated glass panels in the Lido Restaurant. I was amused to see the scruffy lad helping himself to food - you're not supposed to do that, mate! Wait until lunch!

The Lido bar and pool area had a Wimbledon-style retractable roof and a very attractive dolphin sculpture. You can see Patsy in photography action there!

Next stop, the Navigation Deck (Deck 10).

The Neptune Lounge is definitely not the cheap seats. This is for those who are in the Penthouse and Deluxe Verandah Suites and is a concierge service, i.e. it's not cheap and you are waited on hand and foot but if you have the money, then why not?

Continuing on down, the next deck was the Promenade Deck (Deck 8)

The Explorer's Lounge featured a lovely lighting display at the bar, I loved the way the glass bubbles and the bottles were lit.

The Rotterdam Dining Room (upper level) was decorated with an Olympic theme

The atrium, the 'heart' of the ship's passenger area, features a gorgeous green glass sculpture, which extended up through the decks. I loved this piece and it was my favourite internal feature of the ship.

Included as part of the tour was lunch. We had a set menu with limited choice, due to time constraints, and very nice it was too. I had tomato soup for starters and beef as a main course (although I don't usually eat red meat, I have made exceptions when on cruises). Dessert was a raspberry mousse which was very good, followed by coffee.
During lunch we had a chance to talk to Carly Perkins, marketing manager for HAL in the UK. She said that the mega ships aren't HAL's style (thank goodness) and that, for those not wishing to participate in formal nights, other dining options are available for people who don't want to dress up. HAL recognise that a cruise is a holiday and people don't necessarily want to be told what they can and cannot do or wear when on vacation, which I think is a sensible attitude.

After lunch we had a presentation in the Wajang Theatre about HAL and the cruises they offer. I have to say that, after a few hours aboard this ship, I would love to do an HAL cruise. They offer a very appealing 88 day trip to the Far East from Southampton, back to Southampton (or 90 days from/to Rotterdam) going to places I have always dreamed about. Some of the places I have been to by air, on birding trips, but a sea voyage is the stuff of legend and the stuff of dreams. Alas, it is well out of my financial reach, unless I win the lottery. :-(

We disembarked at 1400 full of good feelings towards Maasdam and HAL. I will certainly consider a cruise with HAL when money and time permit. Many thanks to Carly Perkins and HAL for the hospitality.

For more Maasdam deck and interior photos, go to this page on Patricia Dempsey's site.

One more thing - I noticed that Maasdam, although HAL is part of the Carnival portfolio, still has Rotterdam as her port of registry, like her fleetmates. I wish Cunard had kept Southampton as their port of registry (and P&O kept London) instead of disguising cost-cutting as wanting to offer weddings at sea and switching to Bermuda. I guess Dutch laws permit weddings at sea unlike UK laws, but EU law is EU law and I am sure laws regarding wages still apply.

Thursday, 2 August 2012

Rare birds

Two rare visitors came to Southampton today, 2nd August 2012. Mein Schiff 2 arrived first, followed by Holland-America's Maasdam. A couple of months ago I put my name down for a tour of Maasdam and duly received a confirmation email, so I went over to Southampton on the (appallingly early) 0715 Red Jet. Maasdam was a little late arriving, her time being changed from 0800 to 0900 which, from our point of view, was good as we could watch and photograph her arrival.
I'll post the pictures of my visit to Maasdam in a separate post but, for now, here are the exterior photos of both cruise ships, plus other ships that were in today.

As usual, click for largest.

I also took a quick trip to Hythe and back. Red Funnel seems - is! - expensive at nearly £20 for a day return but the Hythe crossing is also pretty pricey, this much shorter trip is £5.30 return.

Here's a video of Maasdam reversing into the Ocean Terminal