HAL’s ‘Voyage of the Vikings’

Holland America Line’s ms Maasdam does an annual summer round trip from Boston to Rotterdam: “Voyage of the Vikings.” While it is possible to take only half the cruise, most passengers go for the full 35 nights. My wife and I took the 2005 cruise, July 16-Aug. 20, at a cost of approximately $8,000 per person for an outside cabin.

We chose this cruise because it did not involve long flights and it allowed us to escape most of a Washington, D.C., summer. It also had an interesting itinerary, including two stops in Greenland, three in Iceland, the Shetland Islands, the Faroe Islands and Saint-Pierre (a French island off the coast of Canada). In addition, there were more “routine” stops in Canada, the U.K., Ireland, Norway and France. The cruise was almost evenly divided between shore and sea days.

We approached the cruise with some trepidation. It was more than twice as long as any cruise we had taken before. We decided that the length was actually an advantage. On shorter voyages, by the time you get comfortable with the routine of the cruise, you have to get off.

This also was our first time with Holland America Line (Seattle, WA; 800/426-0327 or www.hollandamerica.com) and on the Maasdam. We had heard mixed reviews about the ship, particularly on its age and the quality of the food. In the event, however, we found our fears to be largely groundless.

While it’s true that the Maasdam is an older ship and it did show some wear, we did not experience any serious problems, and we enjoyed its relatively small size (around 1,300 passengers). We should note, however, that people in the high-end cabins on the top passenger deck experienced leakage from the swimming pool above them on the Lido deck. (Note: the Maasdam is scheduled to undergo a major overhaul in April ’06.)

We thought the food ran from very good to excellent, both in quality and range of choice. The main restaurant had two tiers, though the lower tier was open only for dinner and could be reached only by using the rear elevators.

The Lido buffet was similar to those of other ships for breakfast and lunch, but for dinner it became “semi-sit down” (i.e., we got our own first courses, but our entrées were served at our table), making it comparable to the main restaurant. The Pinnacle Grill (reservations only, with a surcharge of $25 for dinner and $10 for lunch) was nice, but we didn’t think it worth the extra cost.

Service on board was generally excellent, with the waiters going out of their way to accommodate my wife’s dietary preferences. The only complaint we had was that we (and a couple of hundred others) were forced into late seating despite assurances to the contrary.

Our outside cabin was spacious (191 square feet), with plenty of storage room for our four suitcases. The beds were very comfortable, and the bathroom was decent-sized (though my wife needed a step stool to get into the tub). The steward did an outstanding job.

We noticed that the average age of the passengers on our cruise was near 80.

On the ports, I’ll just mention a few things. There were no organized tours in Greenland, and unless you have some special interest, the main reason for going ashore is to say you were there.

I felt the port in Le Havre, France, was ugly, and it was miles from anywhere. There is no point in going ashore unless on a tour. Many people take a day tour to Paris, but this is VERY long and exhausting. Unless you have never been there and never expect another chance, skip it. We did a tour to see the Bayeux Tapestry. As a history nut, I found it worthwhile even though the tapestry was not what I expected. For others, it may not be worthwhile.

Actually, the sightseeing highlight of the cruise, for me, was not a port but the two days we spent sailing Prince Christian Sound off Greenland. The scenery was fantastic, superior to the Alaskan Inside Passage.


North Bethesda, MD