Category Archives: ms Maasdam

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Holland America Le Cirque Menu

And we may be the first to publish it!

Holland America Lines has one-upped its rivals by bringing the Le Cirque dining experience to The Pinnacle, its fine dining room. As mentioned in an earlier blog, Le Cirque debuted aboard the Maasdam several weeks ago.  It still is not yet available on board all Holland America ships but is expected to be by the end of December.

The search for the menu is one of the hotter topics in cruising, and here the genuine  menu is in its entirety, perhaps for the first time.  At least we know it’s not published on HAL’s site or anywhere else we’ve looked.

The Le Cirque evening usually occurs once or twice on each cruise. It is an extra fee of $39 per person, and formal attire (coat and tie) is required. 

Wine is additional. Single glasses are available for $8 while full bottles begin at $39.

The Le Cirque Menu

As you will see, the menu is limited. There is much to be said for doing a few things perfectly vs. many of them mundanely.

                                   the foods

                                  wines

Maasdam Kitchen Tour

Waiting for the kitchen tour to start, I think about all that goes into preparing food for 1280 passengers and 600 crew members. It has to be a continuous operation, especially with 24 hour room service available.

The kitchen is located on deck 7, with access from the Rotterdam Dining Room. I step from an elegantly decorated dining room set with crisply starched napkins, crystal and flowers into the bright but plain stainless steel kitchen.

The galley of the Maasdam is basically shaped like an upside-down U, entering on the right side the kitchen stations or cubicles are all located along the right side with center of the U being the elevators, escalators and offices. This design continues as I make my way through the galley.

Maasdam Cruise                  KitchentourLindaOKeefe_8186 
Pastry Chef rolling dough                                                    Coffee station

In the first small rectangular cubicle I see is a pastry chef in the right corner rolling out long rectangles of dough; I wonder what delight he is preparing. The next cubicle is equally small with the coffee urns along with espresso and cappuccino makers lining one side of the U and all the coffee condiments on the opposite side. Their smell is wonderful as the coffee aromas blend with that of the soups cooking in two huge kettles in a smaller area behind the coffee station.

       Maasdam Cruise                              Maasdam Cruise
                  Stirring the soup                                                                    Makings of a sauce

Located behind the soup station is the galley for the Pinnacle Grill, the fine dining restaurant in the Maasdam. Although the Pinnacle Grill kitchen is situated in the main galley it is a totally separate operation.

Directly to the left is the escalator for carrying meals to the upper level of the dining room and the Executive Chef’s office. The grill area on the right in addition to the prep area for In-Room Dining cooks to prepare meals for delivery.

The hot kitchen is busiest area of all. This is where the stewards pick up hot appetizers, soup and entrée. Each Chef de Partie has his own work station to prepare his specialty, which he makes in small batches to insure perfection in taste and texture.

In what they call the cold kitchen, big stainless steel refrigerators are packed with cold appetizers and salads, making it easy for a dining room steward to open them and pick up the correct dish.

I notice two elevators off to the left, which I’m told go down to the A and B decks where the storerooms, the Butcher shop and Vegetable Preparation Room are all located.

            Maasdam Cruise                     Maasdam Cruise
           Streamlining salads                                            Vegetable station

One of the most interesting things I learn is about the crew galley, located on the B deck near the Mess rooms where the Filipino and Indonesian crew members take their meals. They have their own chefs–2 Indonesians and 1 Filipino—to prepare the kinds of foods they prefer.

          Maasdam Cruise         Maasdam Cruise      Maasdam Cruise
                      One of the Chefs during a photo shoot            Snacks for the hungry

We often read statements aboard ship about how HAL is committed to preserving, protecting and maintaining the environment its ships use. Here on the Maasdam they seem to do a good job when it comes to recycling. For instance, a somat pulper located in the dishwashing area turns food waste into mulch which goes to the recycling waste room. There the mulch is dehydrated so it can be incinerated or discharged at sea according to strict rules.

                  Maasdam Cruise  
                  Dishwasher cleaning up                      

Plastics and other non-burnable wastes are compacted, kept in cold storage, then finally hauled away when we are in port. Glass is crushed, tins and aluminum are compressed into bricks for recycling.

Organization is the key ingredient in the ship’s recipe for having dining operations run smoothly. I guess that’s why the tour is so fast. My group of 20 goes through in just 8 minutes. The kitchen is smaller than I thought it would be but everything has its designated area and the flow of preparation assures our dinners arrives in a timely manner and that a surprising amount of close attention was paid to even the smallest details.

Average weekly consumption list for approx. 1,900 persons
Meat and meat products: 8,500 lbs
Poultry 4,000 lbs
Fish 2,000 lbs
Seafood 2,500 lbs
Butter and Margarine 1,100 lbs
Fresh Vegetables 12,000 lbs
Potatoes 4,500 lbs
Watermelon 1,800 lbs
Eggs 18,000 pcs
Dairy 4,000 qts
Sugar 700 lbs
Ind. Sugar Packages 20,000 pcs
Rice for Crew 2,100 lbs
Caviar 20 lbs
Flour 2,900 lbs
Ice Cream 200 gln

  By Linda O’Keefe

   
   

Half Moon Cay, Final Phase

woman on horseback

Just when it’s starting to feel like our own backyard

Our third and final visit to Half Moon Cay, Holland America’s private island, is also the first stop on our third and final leg of our 35-day voyage. When we left Half Moon Cay on Sunday, it was a warm, beautiful day with winds strong in the morning decreasing throughout the day.

What a shock to arrive the next morning in Ft. Lauderdale where it is 50 degrees at 7 a.m. and winds are strong. Did I hibernate through the winter and wake up on an Alaska cruise? The only time it was ever this cold there was when our ship was next to a glacier.

So it’s nice to be back at Half Moon Cay in the Bahamas, where this morning it’s in the high 70s and winds are the calmest they’ve ever been.

3 half moon bch cover   3 half moon riding sea

More Island Background Info:
Unless there are two ships present and the larger vessel gets priority, the tender boats stationed in the protected Half Moon marina provide easy access for everyone, including those in wheelchairs and strollers. It’s because the upper level of the double-decked tenders are almost level with the gangway, as opposed to a steeper descent down to the Maasdam’s own tenders.

3 half moon fort   3 half moon shell fountain

After docking at the tender pier, you enter through the archway of Fort San Salvador, though technically this island’s name is Little San Salvador. The Bahamas’ real San Salvador is where Columbus may have landed, though the Turks and Caicos Islands claim the same honor.

Once inside the archway, you enter a plaza with an information kiosk, restrooms, a fountain surrounded by conch shells and a handful of shops. There is supposed to be a straw market, but if there is one it must be hidden in the gift shop, which I’ve never visited. From the plaza, you can see the replica of a small Bahamian chapel. The plaza also is where you board the shuttle trucks (with shade canopy) to different activities and to the Island BBQ at the Food Pavilion (served 11:30-1).

As for the BBQ, don’t feel the need to give up your beach time for to attend it. You’ll find the same hamburgers and dogs and bratwurst and fries at the Terrace Grill back on the Maasdam until 6 p.m., but not all the salads and fruits. Since the last tender departs around 2 p.m., just eat a big breakfast and grab some apples from the buffet for a snack.

At the same time, the buffet is not all that crowded when only one ship is anchored. When there are two, it can feel like a feeding frenzy and you may want to flee back to the ship.

Also consider the Lido Restaurant closes at 2 p.m., although the deli—which closes for a brief time and then reopens about 2:15-2:20 after a fresh restocking—stays open until 5.
3 half moon sand castle   3 half moon church   3 boy on slide

Moon also has a mini Aqua Park for youngsters 2-5, but the kids seem to ignore that as much as they do swimming in the Caribbean. From what I’ve witnessed, the kids prefer building sand castles and digging in the sand and turning their holes into wells with sea water they scoop from the sea. The huge (pirate?) ship mentioned in my first Half Moon Cay post is much closer to completion than when we first saw it 24 days ago. It’s now so prominent it’s easily seen from the Maasdam at anchor well offshore. And it dwarfs people on the beach.

3 half moon ship   3 half moon kids running

For those with mobility issues concerned about visiting Half Moon Cay, the busiest areas have three handicapped-accessible areas joined by hard-surfaced pathways. In addition, all the island’s facilities meet and exceed ADA requirements, including beach and jitney trams.

Here’s a summary of all the activities and facilities on Half Moon Cay.
Special Features:

  • Aquasports center with beach gear and watersports equipment
  • Fully-equipped Club HAL children’s playground
  • Free beach chairs
  • Volleyball, shuffleboard and horseshoes
  • Par course trail with exercise stations
  • Network of nature trails with interpretive signs
  • Bridges across dunes for beach access
  • Designated Wild Bird Reserve (you won’t find signs to it)
  • All facilities meet and exceed ADA requirements including beach and jitney trams
  • Hard-surfaced pathways connecting venues

3 half moon bch bottom

Half Moon Cay Part II

Half Moon Cay-3

Thanks to HAL’s Digital Workshop, I can show it to you now

I also provide much more detail about where and what HAL’s Half Moon Cay is. The real name of the 2,400-acre is Little San Salvador, which Holland America purchased in 1997 and shares with some Carnival Cruises.

This was an uninhabited island, 17 from the nearest landfall. With nine miles of beach, the island is little developed except in a 45-acre section bordering the mile-long crescent-shaped bay near the tender dock,. There is no cruise dock here.

The Half Moon Cay name is based not only on the crescent shape of the beach here but Holland America’s logo, which depicts explorer Henry Hudson’s ship, the Half Moon. From my point of view, they could just as well name it Paradise Beach or any combination of descriptive terms and they would be accurate.

I’ve seen most of the Caribbean’s major beaches and many out-of-the-way ones, so I feel qualified to say this one is truly spectacular, no hype.

Since we visit Half Moon Cay almost back to back, there to Ft. Lauderdale and then back again, I’ll wait to describe the facilities in that post. Let shut up and let these images show you the island.

Half Moon Cay-4   Half Moon Cay-11

Half Moon Cay-9   Half Moon Cay-6

Half Moon Cay-5   Half Moon Cay-7

   Half Moon Cay-14   Half Moon Cay-15

Half Moon Cay-12   Half Moon Cay-22

Half Moon Cay-23   Half Moon Cay-27

None of these images do justice to the beach.  Will try to do better today.

A Maasdam Day-At-Sea

Maasdam underway at sea

From acupuncture to a casino slots tournament

Today was exciting and informative. Holland America offers everyone the chance to turn their cruise into a learning experience by offering demonstrations, classes, and seminars in four diverse areas.

The subjects are Explore Our World (travel talks), Food & Entertainment, Technology (digital workshops) and Wellbeing. Our daily newsletter, called Explorer, lists each day’s topics. Fortunately, the same 60-minute sessions are repeated several times during a cruise since many classes are held simultaneously.

Since I went the culinary route last time, I make my way downstairs for a Wellbeing seminar on “How to Lose Weight Through Acupuncture.” The burning question in my mind is why acupuncture on a cruise ship? That question along with many others is answered by MacPherson Jaegerson, the Maasdam’s MSTOM Certified Acupuncture and Chinese Herbalist NCCAOM.

Maasdam Cruise
MacPherson Jaegerson

Acupuncture: No Points for Me
Jaegerson explains that traditional Chinese medicine, which has been around for thousands of years, has helped millions of people when more modern methods fail. Her treatment program begins with a free consultation to determine each person’s needs and goals. Then she decides which approach to take: whether to use acupuncture needle or herbal medicines or a combination of the two.

It is an interesting talk. Ironically, most people are here seeking relief from seasickness and little interest in weight loss. I decide to book a consultation. Hey, it’s free after all!

Our meeting is not what I expect and I am totally unprepared for what she tells me after I explain my goals and answer her questions about my often hectic lifestyle. She says she will not take me on as a patient unless I give up a full week of the cruise and spend it sleeping. Sleeping!

HA! Who would write my blogs or take my pictures? And I would miss so much I’ve never seen, which is the point of being here. I politely respond I need to think about it. But she already knows my answer.

Her theory, probably accurate, is that I need to completely recharge in order for my body to function better. So afterwards I will make a better effort to sleep as much as I can but still go as much as I want.

Maasdam Cruise

A Poor Sales Pitch
I still have another class to attend today, a seminar in the fitness center about “Secrets to a Flatter Stomach.” What a disappointment! Ruurd Halverhout, one of the Maasdam’s two personal trainers, starts by explaining the importance of exercising three to four times a week (nothing new here) and good nutrition, which he cites as being more important than exercise. He advocates eating all you want for breakfast followed by a smaller lunch and even smaller dinner, basically the opposite of the way most of eat today.

Then he begins to stress the importance of detoxification, of cleaning the body from the inside out. Ruurd says detox is necessary because the liver can be overworked and water may infuse the fat around our lymph glands, which makes us jiggle when we walk or raise our arms.

Only detox, not exercise, will cure all our evils. And he has the magic pills to sell us that will accomplish that. Just take two pills each morning, with a month’s supply costing $100.

This whole thing is nothing but a sales pitch. And since the trainer is not completely forthcoming, he is setting people up for failure: He never mentions that a genuine detox regimen requires giving up things like caffeine, red meat, dairy, alcohol and gluten. Detox isn’t easy at any age but especially not for cruisers between the ages of 40 to 80. I know, because I’ve done a real detox program under medical supervision. I wish it was as easy as taking two pills a day.

slots tournament sign   slots linda playing
The promise of wealth                                                                     Linda losing her $20 entry

The Slots Tournament
I decide to push health and well being off the front burner for now and head to the Casino to compete in my first-ever slots tournament. The rules are simple: pay $20 and wait for one of the tournament machines to be free. Then I work the one-arm bandit for 200 spins. The person who ends up with the most points at the end of the tournament wins.

I score almost 3,000 points, which may sound good, but many others are far ahead of me. The current leader has more than 10,000 points. Just think what kind of jackpot they might have won if they were playing normally. The tournament’s top prize is $500.

The Casino hostess offers me the chance to buy 400 spins for the price of 200, a two-for-one. It was fun but I pass. Surprising how what a short time it takes for 200 spins, lasting just long enough for Tim and me to share a free glass of wine.

The Maasdam’s program for our days-at-sea can make them full of learning and experiencing new challenges, or we can just relax by the pool reading a book. I love the fact that we have that kind of choice.

By Linda O’Keefe

What Is Your Favorite Waffle Topping?

Peanut butter and banana is another possibility

Since the Eggs Benedict Dilemma post is such a hit, here are some more breakfast ideas from the Maasdam breakfast buffet we’re taking home. This time it’s from the Waffle Bar.

waffle with blueberries
Waffle with blueberries

Personally, I’ll take a waffle over a pancake or French toast anytime. Not only do waffles sit a lot lighter in the belly, you can actually taste the waffle toppings because they’re not overpowered by the batter, as in a pancake or thick French toast.

Making waffles at home is easy these days. Seems like every time I look in a newspaper, waffle irons are on sale and their prices keep decreasing, some as low as $15 or $20. So there’s no barrier to making your own.

But you need a deep waffle iron to match what the Maasdam produces. Notice how thick these things are! It may require a commercial waffle maker, which we’ll research when we have unlimited free wireless all the time back home.

waffle with cherries
Waffle with cherries

What makes a good waffle? We can tell you what the waffles are made from but not the exact proportion of everything, at least not yet. The fixings: Flour, milk, egg yolk, melted butter (not margarine!) and a pinch of sugar. We believe a key ingredient to the waffles airiness is not only the thickness of the waffle maker but not filling it to the top. Leave a little space for the waffles to rise.

We’re working on getting the exact measurements. Feeding 1,250 mouths keeps a chef busy. Send me a message in a couple of days and I’ll let you know what we find (offer expires Dec. 17, 2010, the end of our cruise).

Waffle with peaches
Waffle with  peaches

The toppings I’ve already suggested peanut butter and sliced banana. It could even be good old peanut butter and jelly. How about cooked apples and cinnamon? Chocolate and whipped cream? Sliced pineapple? Bananas and chocolate sauce? Pears with chocolate sauce? Strawberries and whipped cream?

(In having Linda check this before posting, I learn chocolate sauce and whipped cream are available at the Waffle Bar. But you have to ask for them. If the presence of chocolate sauce was public knowledge, people might form lines to put in on their French toast, bowl of fresh fruit and who knows what else.)

Have a favorite topping of your own you’re willing to pass on? Send it to me and if I receive  enough of them, I’ll share them in a later post.

waffle with strawberries
Waffle with strawberries

Unwelcome in St. Thomas

Crown Bay 1
Balcony view from starboard side—inside cabin walls look better

Maasdam
exiled from Charlotte Amalie, which is nowhere in sight

What does the Virgin Islands Port Authority (VIPA), which owns and operates all public seaports in the Virgin Islands, have against Holland America? Or the West Indian Company Dock, which owns the cruise dock at Havensight, St. Thomas’s best cruise port?

Here in St. Thomas, we are marooned at a new cruise dock far from Charlotte Amalie and all its attractions. Some might call it Hell but its real name is the Crown Bay cruise dock, which has the forlorn feeling of a quarantine facility. Few people man the port and many of the stores either are not open or are vacant, seemingly abandoned.

Consider the huge, empty Jumbie Bay and Visitor Bar large enough to function as the main cruise terminal facility. Like much of this place, it is deserted. The numerous restaurants and shops that Crown Bay advertises on its web site simply don’t exist; neither do the links to them on http://www.viport.com/cbc/index.html. This may well be the worst cruise facility in all the Caribbean.

crown bay 2
Balcony view from port side—and you paid extra to see this?

With only two other cruise ships docked in St. Thomas at Havensight on this day, it makes no sense why we also are not docked there. Mooring space obviously is available. Or, at the very least, why isn’t the Maasdam anchored just offshore of Charlotte Amalie where we can be tendered in and set ashore almost in the middle of the city, as on my last HAL cruise to St. Thomas not so long ago.

At our isolated leper colony of Crown Bay, the island scenery consists mainly of commercial facilities, such as the 20-acre Crown Bay Cargo Port filled with scores of red containers that are a lousy substitute for the red rooftops of Charlotte Amalie.

crown bay 5
This is all of Crown Bay; note lack of people

Curious about why we’re outcasts, I check with two sources. The woman at the Maasdam’s Front Desk seems apologetic; the tourist board rep stationed in a small shed on the dock obviously is tired of hearing such questions and complaints. Both explain we are isolated here because the Virgin Islands Port Authority says this is where HAL must dock now and forever more.

Seems to me HAL’s mid-size ships are being discriminated against while the gigantitus vessels of other cruise lines enjoy priority. Whatever the reason, HAL is stumbling badly on its promise of “A Signature of Excellence.”

Crown Bay 6
Ever seen a cruise port parking lot with so few cars before?

As for our own day the Crown of Thorns Point, we arose at 6 a.m., looking forward to exploring St. Thomas on foot. However, heavy cloud obscures the sky and rain appears imminent. We have no incentive to go into Charlotte Amalie and pay $8-$10 for a taxi (one way) to update our photo files.

In the afternoon, the sun finally emerges but I’ve lost all incentive to visit Charlotte Amalie. Crown Port has one saving grace, a small convenience store called Love and Joy that offers unlimited internet for $4 if you have your own laptop. This is how I’m able to make multiple blog and twitter posts this afternoon. Convenient wireless service is the only positive thing I can say about being docked in St. Thomas.

As we depart Crown Bay and the Maasdam makes its short journey out into open sea, the lush green island and gleaming white sailboats and fishing boats anchored beside it are a poignant reminder of how beautiful St. Thomas can look, compared to the industrial slum where we docked for the day.

crown bay 3
Finally!  A good view as we depart.

If HAL can’t negotiate a better location than Crown Point, it should boycott St. Thomas. The shopping is no better or different there than on every other island we’ve visited. As for Magens Bay, continually promoted as one of the world’s top 10 beaches, that rating is misleading because it is decades-old. Many far better beaches have been discovered since then.

St. John is a far superior choice for superb beaches, particularly Trunk and Maho Bays. St. Croix has more interesting historical architecture because its two main cities, Frederiksted and Christiansted, haven’t been demolished to build strips malls for more jewelry stores.

When it comes to outstanding beaches, it’s hard to top the clean, gorgeous white sand of Half Moon Cay. And passengers can enjoy their day without the same risk of crime that might befall them at a public beach on St. Thomas. Not only is the island’s crime rate almost 13 times greater than the U. S.  national average, a teenage girl on a cruise was shot and killed this past July while riding in a tour bus near Coki Beach.  Authorities at the time said they believe she was an unintended target, caught in the cross fire of two rival gangs.  On Half Moon Cay, something like this would never happen.

We didn’t visit St. Thomas on the first segment on our 35-day cruise and we never heard anyone complain about missing it. Instead, we heard several wishing they could stay on the ship for our third and final segment when the Maasdam visits St. Croix.

HAL tries to put the best face on the Crown Bay situation but what it says is kind of sad in the Explorer, our daily bulletin: “… there is also a shopping complex in Crown Bay, which has a variety of shops similar to Havensight.” Hardly. Havensight has more than 60 shops and many more nearby. Crown Bay is a failed mini-mall that echoes like a deserted building.

More importantly, the Explorer makes it sound like shopping is the main reason for cruising the Caribbean. Maybe it once was but not anymore. You can find better bargains on the Internet.

How about this as the ultimate St. Thomas insult to HAL. I’ve been told the Maasdam will be the only one visiting St. Thomas on New Year’s. Guess where the Maasdam will be docked? The same old Crown Bay ghost town, better suited to Halloween.

How is that for another slap in the face to “A Signature of Excellence?”

Note:

Those who have docked at Crown Bay, please send comments:
1) Whether you disagree or agree that the Crown Bay cruise facility ranks among the Caribbean’s worst cruise port based on location and facilities.

In terms of Caribbean ports regardless of where you are docked
2) How important is a St. Thomas stop to you?

I want to publish these responses. Please indicate if I can directly quote you in my posts.
Thank you!

crown bay 4
What it felt like to be abandoned at Crown Bay