On Tuesday, December 18, 2018 at 2 p.m. we left Vernon with our neighbours, Mark and Eva, bound for Kelowna for the first leg of our flight to Sydney, AU and the beginning of our 36 Day Southern Ocean & East Indies Cruise scheduled to begin on Friday.  Vernon was 4 C [39 F] with no snow.  In Vancouver waiting in the Departure Lounge for our direct Air Canada flight to Sydney, Richard witnessed 4 different travelers with no Australian Visas and the Air Canada staff processing their applications so they could make the same flight as us.  These folks must have been new to international travel or ill-advised by their travel agent in not securing the required Visa beforehand. 

Our flight to Sydney was long as expected, our plane not new exhibiting lots of creaks and groans and no WIFI that upset a number of passengers.  We arrived in Sydney at 1045 a.m. on Thursday, December 20 under clear skies and 28 C [82 F] the temperature.  The airport procedures of Passport Control and luggage retrieval was routine as was our hotel check-in after a fairly lengthy taxi ride.

Thursday afternoon there were two brief but heavy rain showers and during our dinner a hail storm that we later heard caused extensive damage to vehicles throughout Sydney.

On Friday, December 21 we awoke to cloudy skies and 24 C [75 F] later during our drive to the cruise terminal.  The embarkation procedure was quick and efficient however, for the first time ever on all our Holland America cruises staff denied us the right to take our luggage with us when we boarded.  Instead we had to await delivery to our Stateroom by Holland America staff.  After our first lunch in the Dining Room we found that our luggage had been delivered upon return to our Stateroom.  By 2:30 p.m. we were all unpacked.  The mandatory Passenger Emergency Muster Drill scheduled for 4:30 p.m. was held with yet another heavy but brief rainfall occurring at the start of the Drill.  At dinner that evening we met our tablemates, a couple from The Villages, FL and a couple from Port Angeles, WA .

Our ship, the Maasdam, 719 feet in length, carries 1,258 passengers plus a crew of 557 and has a maximum speed of 22 knots.  She is served by 2 banks of elevators, forward and aft.  At times we missed the mid-ship bank of elevators found on most other HAL ships and so did more walking to reach our various destinations while on board.  Onboard facilities include a pool and hot tubs, 4  bars, casion, medical centre, photo gallery and retail stores.  Live entertainment is offered most nights and the Wajang Theatre offers daily movies.  Onboard dining is in The Rotterdam, while buffet meals are provided in the Lido Restaurant.  The Dive-In offers quality hamburgers, hot dogs and chips similar to A & W and Macdonald’s at home.  The Pinnacle Grill offers an elegant, sophisticated dining experience featuring premium Sterling Silver beef, inspired seafood dishes and many selected wines.

This was our first time cruising on this ship.

Daily at 4 p.m. we enjoy Happy Hour in the Ocean Bar before our evening meal.  From 4 to 5 p.m. one pays $2 for the second drink.

On selected nights of our cruise it was Formal Dress Code for dinner.

The main purpose for us taking this cruise was a brief escape from winter and to revisit the many cities and towns in Australia and Tasmania that we had visited previously in 2008 and 2011, the years when we enjoyed extensive land tours of both places.  It was also the first time we chose to vacation away from home during the Christmas holiday season.

 

We noticed a huge difference of holiday observance in Australia to that what we are accustomed to back home in North America.  In Sydney there were no decorations of business buildings in the Business District and Melbourne was bare also in both the Business District and residential area that we visited when in port there.  The ship was very limited with holiday decorations as well.  The Atrium had coloured lights and on Deck 6 a holiday train village display around the Atrium’s base.  Most public areas around the ship displayed a Christmas tree.  For a select number of days around Christmas, the ship’s staff in the bars, lounges and dining room wore Santa caps when on duty.

In port at Melbourne on Sunday, December 23, our first stop.  Heading for a high of 23 C [73 F] the day was clear and sunny.  As planned, we went ashore to visit our friends, Helen & Ted and Ted drove us to their home where we enjoyed a great visit and a delicious lunch at a restaurant close to their home.  Richard observed that $1.19 AUD to $1.21 AUD were the gas prices in Melbourne.

Passenger Guest Count – Sydney to Freemantle [Perth]

Nationality

Total Count

 

 

Armenia

4

Austria

4

Australia

597

Belgium

3

Canada

74

Switzerland

3

China

7

Germany

14

Denmark

2

Spain

4

France

3

United Kingdom

57

Hong Kong

1

Hungary

3

Ireland

2

India

1

Iran, Islamic Republic

1

Japan

2

Malaysia

1

Netherlands

30

New Zealand

54

Poland

2

Sweden

4

Thailand

1

Taiwan

2

United States

262

South Africa

1

 

 

Total

1,139

 

As this was the holiday season, there was a fairly large number of children aboard as guests.  All were very well mannered and polite and caused us no problems.

Christmas Day, December 25, had us in port at Hobart, Tasmania then on to Port Arthur, a village and historic site in southern Tasmania and the first use of the tender process to go ashore.  It was a 19th-century penal settlement and is now an open-air museum. Ruins include the huge penitentiary and the remaining shell of the Convict Church, which was built by inmates. Solitary confinement cells in the Separate Prison building were used to inflict mental punishment in place of floggings.

Each evening delivered to our Stateroom was the “When & Where” guide for the following day.  This informative pamphlet provided information on the following day’s events on an hourly basis so guests could plan what they might do and where each function took place.  As well there was a weather forecast included with anticipated temperatures for that following day.

Once on board and early into the cruise guests were informed via "When & Where" that EXC In-Depth Voyages was the program or theme of this cruise.  Nowhere, do I believe, did Holland America make this known when promoting this cruise for purchase, we first learned of it once the cruise began.  This I confirmed with many other guests on board.  This theme apparently has 6 separate components and dominated most daily offerings of things to do daily.  To this guest it served so purpose.  If I heard correctly while on this cruise, the EXC staff took the place of the ships Singers & Dancers that on previous cruises provided good entertainment on stage.  They were missed!

 

Daily movies offering times at 5 p.m. and again at 9 p.m. in the Wajang Theatre were also so scheduled as a result of the EXC program, I believe.  For those guests with Fixed Early Dining the 5 p.m. slot was a no-go and with the 9 p.m. time ending some 2 hours or more later, not good for many Seniors being so late in ending.  Our prior cruise experiences had these movies available at 7 p.m. most days.

 

As on previous Holland America cruises, The Canadian, headline news of events in Canada is again available at various locations on the ship as is the American version, Times Digest, eight pages of headline news from the pages of The New York Times, and versions for Australia and the Netherlands, just to mention a couple.  This allowed us to keep abreast of major events and weather.  Richard arranged to have the Canadian paper delivered to his stateroom daily.

In port at Adelaide, South Australia on Friday, December 28 for an overnight stay.  Temperature forecast for Adelaide stay was hot, 38 C [101 F] and guests were warned by announcements from the Bridge to be extra careful when going ashore.  The actual high temperature was 24 C [75 F] so not very hot.  On our two previous visits to Adelaide in 2008 and 2011 temperatures then did reach 38 C [101 F] or better … all under sunny skies.  Richard ventured ashore with the intent of revisiting some of the beach areas in the city he had enjoyed previously.  Inquiring about taxi rates he learned that the port was situated some 45 minutes away from city center and $75 AUD per hour was the going taxi rate, meaning a cost of $150 AUD return just to reach city center and still see nothing!  Train travel was available for about $12 AUD to reach the city but not knowing train schedules and such once there ruled this option out and Richard returned to the ship not seeing Adelaide this time around.  Oh, the ship’s tours far far too expensive so that was not an option.

At anchor of Penneshaw, Kangaroo Island on Sunday, December 30 and again the use of tenders to go ashore.  Partly sunny skies upon waking and a warm day followed.  In 2011, our first visit here, we spent 3 days touring the Island.  Richard had the shore excursion “Cape Willoughby, Wines & Views” booked.  Besides visiting the lighthouse, wine tasting was enjoyed at Dudley Wines followed by a visit to the Chapman River and Antechamber Bay which featured nice sandy beaches.  Kangaroo were seen near the lighthouse.

Web Sites of Interest

Cape Willoughby Lighthouse               https://lighthouses.org.au/sa/cape-willoughby-lighthouse/

Dudley Wines                                      http://www.dudleywines.com.au/

Antechamber Bay      

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antechamber_Bay,_South_Australia

Richard wanted to purchase shore excursions for Esperence on Jan 3 and Albany on Jan 4 but on Dec 30 were sold out when Richard made his attempt.

We have enjoyed calm seas so far and hope this continues.  Rain was almost non-existent and the few times it did rain this happened during the night so did not bother us.  Sunshine and hot weather favoured us from Adelaide through to Darwin our last Australia port on our itinerary.  So hot was it that sitting outside on the outer decks was a no-no whether the ship was in port or at sea.

Of the sixteen cities and towns included on our cruise itinerary there were only three that we had not visited on our two previous visits to Australia.  They are Port Lincoln, South Australia; Bunbury, Western Australia; and Kuri Bay, Western Australia.  Richard did visit the first two but Holland America would not let him visit Kuri Bay without a prepaid shore excursion.

For New Year’s Eve, Monday, December 31, we were in port at Port Lincoln, South Australia.  The ship offered no real celebrations other than a gathering in and around the Lido Pool.  We later heard crowds were large and noisy … glad we chose to stay away!  The next day, New Year’s Day, Tuesday, January 1, 2019 was a sea day.

A second sea day, Wednesday, January 2 had both of us attending a Mariner Reception at 11 a.m. where with other guests we received a Silver Medallion for our loyalty to Holland America and in recognition of sailing 300 days with them.  Luncheon then followed and this was one of two Mariner Luncheons we attended by invite on this cruise.

As earlier mentioned we enjoy Happy Hour daily in the Ocean Bar.  Attendance for this one hour afternoon period was at times low, most unusual in comparison to previous cruises we’ve enjoyed.

The Casino is one area we choose not to visit.  However one cannot help observing that, like attendance in the Ocean Bar is low at times, the tables in the Casino remain virtually empty of players.  Guests are seen playing the machines but again in limited numbers.

In port at Esperance, Western Australia on Thursday, January 3 with the day beginning under mainly cloudy skies and later a light rain for a brief period … an exception to the sunny skies we know Western Australia is all about.  Port location required using the complimentary free shuttle service into Esperance and back.  The shuttle dropped us off at an Information Centre near the beach.  On Richard’s walkabout he spotted a Comfort Inn nearby and believed it to be the same one he, Anita and Marjorie stayed at during our 2011 land tour of Western Australia.  He took photos of the motel for verification once back home.  A review of Richard’s photos of 2011 proved him correct once back home, it indeed was the same one!  At dinner that evening our Port Angeles tablemates celebrated their 55 th wedding anniversary today and we were privileged and honoured to share their anniversary cake with them.  The Captain had earlier sent greetings to the couple.

In port at Freemantle [Perth], Western Australia on Sunday, January 6 and the end of the first segment of our cruise.  Many guests left us here and others joined us.  We were required to do the In Transit procedure, go ashore and pass through Australia Border Security before being allowed back on the ship.  For a second time on this cruise we had to participate in the Mandatory Passenger Emergency Muster Drill in the late afternoon.  We enjoyed the warmth from the clear sunny skies today when ashore.

Passenger Guest Count – Freemantle [Perth] to Singapore

Nationality

Total Count

 

 

Australia

293

Belgium

4

Brazil

1

Canada

137

Switzerland

7

China

1

Costa Rica

3

Germany

25

Denmark

4

Spain

2

France

2

United Kingdon

70

Hungary

3

Indonesia

2

India

1

Japan

4

Malaysia

5

Netherlands

49

New Zealand

22

Poland

8

Russia

2

Sweden

2

Taiwan

3

United States

397

 

 

Total

1,047

 

There were a limited number of children along as guests on this portion of the cruise.  As mentioned earlier all were very well mannered and polite and caused us no problems.

On the subject of evening entertainment, of the 36 cruise days in total, there were live shows 23 days; movies on 7 days [3 of which showed the Planet Earth series]; and 6 days with speaker presentations [2 which were EXC In-Depth talks] .

As the cruise moved up Western Australia we continued to be favoured with calm seas, sunshine and hot weather.  Oh, and the waters of Western Australia were so clear and colourful!

Port locations for the most part continue to be situated outside the towns and cities in the industrial areas as was the case in Adelaide.  For guests not on pre-booked shore excursions this meant utilizing the complimentary shuttle service, when available, or taxis, to reach any of the shops or attractions.  Most times the shuttle ended at an Information Center and nothing of interest to this guest was close by.  I’m certain those choosing the expensive shore excursions saw more in any one port then did those on their own.

At anchor off Kuri Bay, Western Austral on Saturday, January 12 and sunny skies was the order of the day.  It proved to be another extremely warm day.  Kuri Bay is a remote coastal bay in the far north of Western Australia in the Kimberley region, about 370 km north of Broome.  It is the home to Australia’s first cultured peal farm.  Richard chose not to purchase any of the three available shore excursions and so was prohibited on going ashore by Holland America.  Some two days earlier a directive from Holland America was provided to passengers advising that one must purchase a shore excursion to be able to go ashore in Kuri Bay.  Since when does Holland America have the right to refuse a guest freedom of movement and choice?  We live in a free country and by choice can go when and where we choose … except on a Holland America cruise apparently!

Richard, upset over not being allowed ashore, went to Guest Services at 8:30 a.m. and requested to meet with Hotel Director Florin Dragmir at any time that day to discuss the situation at hand, his personal loss of freedom that day.  The Hotel Director refused to meet with Richard any time that day, Saturday, January 12.  So much for good guest relations with Senior Staff!

Time changes, setting our clocks either ahead or back occurred from time to time during our cruise.  Tonight clocks were set ahead 1.5 hours.

In port at Darwin, Northern Territory on Monday, January 14 … our last port in Australia.  Partly cloudy skies and very humid.  For a change we’re close to the city.  Going ashore Richard walked the Darwin waterfront for some 2 hours and the hot sun and humidity had him drenched with perspiration upon his return to the ship.  Clocks were set back ½ hour tonight.

Throughout Western Australia and Northern Territory, Richard observed many signs advising of the proximity of Road Trains.  Sad to say he did not see any actual Road Trains in person during his time ashore in any of the ports.

Web Sites of Interest

Road Trains                 http://outbacktowing.tripod.com/

For some 24 days we cruised the waters of Australia and Tasmania.  During this time only “token” amounts of Aussie beer and wine were available for purchase in the bars and lounges.  Should not Holland America be promoting such a great country while in its’ midst?  One could only assume Holland America stood to make more money by offering for sale the multitude of premium alcoholic beverages in the bars and lounges.

A sea day on Tuesday, January 15 as we left Australia behind and headed for the East Indies the lands of South and Southeast Asia.  Having left Australia the weather changed and for the remainder of our cruise cloudy skies, no sunshine, became the norm.  Despite the lack of sun it remained very warm and humid.  A "sun-less" ... is there such a word? period at this time of year as was the case in January/February of 2017 our first visit here.

At anchor off Dili, East Timor on Wednesday, January 16 for our first time.  The Captain had asked that guests be patient in going ashore today as, due to sea conditions [not rough seas], he anticipated a long tender ride and advised the service would be slower as the tenders had to operate on a “one-way” basis due to the narrow sea channel.  Richard chose not to go ashore.  All reports later spoke of a poor time ashore … not tourist ready, most reported.

At anchor off Komodo Island, Indonesia on Friday, January 18 under cloudy morning skies.  Richard had a tour, “Komodo Island Adventure” to hopefully see and photograph the Komodo dragon in Komodo National Park.  While standing in the assigned group awaiting the start of the walk, a brief heavy rain deluged everyone.  It was over before folks had the time to don their rain gear.  No one came away disappointed as we found the dragons and had many photo opportunities.  Siting the dragons for Richard was his second time, with winter 2017 having been his first visit here.

Prior to disembarkment there were five ports yet to visit on our itinerary after Komodo Island and we chose not to purchase shore excursions nor go ashore at any of these ports.  The cheapest of the shore excursion offerings was $109.95 U.S per person and ranged higher to $149.95 U.S. per person and $259.95 U.S. per person for tours ranging in length from 4 hours, 8 hours and up to 10 hours.  Again, all these ports were remotely located, long distances from the cities and attractions.

Many of the staff working on our ship had families living near these ports.  Holland America made these family members welcome on board the ship when in port.  A grand gesture by the cruise company as staff members on 10 month contracts had not seen family for a long time.  As guests we enjoyed the interactions, especially the excitement of the young children.

The ship was late leaving Semarang, Java on Thursday, January 24 our last port before arriving in Singapore.  The following day, a sea day, our Captain advised us that he anticipated a late arrival on Saturday morning in Singapore.  This due to our late departure that Thursday and high winds on Friday.  Despite the high winds the seas remained calm.  A number of guests apparently had return flights booked leaving Singapore mid-morning on Saturday and had to rebook.  One couple from the U.S. we spoke to said it cost them $2,000.to cancel and rebook their flights!

In port at Singapore by 9 a.m. on Saturday, January 26 under sunny morning skies.  A revised disembarkment schedule had been issued due to our late arrival and at 9:20 a.m. the process began.  Taking our own luggage with us, we departed the ship at 9:45 a.m. and ½ hour later had cleared customs and were en route to our Singapore Hotel for an overnight stay prior to flying home.  This was our second visit to Singapore.  No touring had been planned and we spent a relaxing afternoon and evening in and around the hotel.  People watching took up a good portion of this time.

Our homebound flights on Sunday, January 27 were very long and exhausting due to flight delays making our day all that much longer.  The flight from Singapore > Hong Kong was about an hour late leaving and once at Hong Kong had to fly a holding pattern for half an hour prior to landing.  This due to heavy air traffic.  Our next flight, Hong Kong > Vancouver was delayed some 2 hours due to the late arrival of our aircraft.  Then, once boarded, sat waiting at the gate for another ¾ of an hour awaiting late arrivals for our flight and the removal of luggage from our aircraft for those passengers who were “no-shows” for our flight.  Once away from the gate it was yet another 50 minutes before our flight finally left Hong Kong.  All these delays had meant a rebooking of our Vancouver > Kelowna flight to a later one so it was 8:30 p.m. when we landed in Kelowna.  Mark & Eva, our neighbours, were at the Kelowna Airport to meet us and drive us to our Vernon home.  The temperature changes that Sunday were something else … Singapore at 10 a.m. [Singapore time] was 32 C [90 F]; Hong Kong at 6 p.m. was 20 C [68 F]; Vancouver at 6 p.m. [local time] was 5 C [41 F]; and Kelowna at 8:30 p.m. was -2 C [28 F] with just a skiff of snow on the grass and road side, roads were clear and dry.

Conclusions

We were extremely pleased with our ship, the ms Maasdam and all that was available to us during our 36 day cruise.  At times we missed the mid-ship bank of elevators found on most other HAL ships and so did more walking to reach our various destinations while on board.   Food on board was excellent!  The crew on board were polite and most accommodating to our needs.  We do enjoy the benefits afforded us cruising as 4 star mariners on Holland America ships.  We were dissatisfied with the EXC In-Depth Voyages program or theme imposed upon all guests on this voyage.  We do find the shore excursion offerings onboard to be very expensive and were not pleased that a number of the ports we visited were situated long distances from the major cities and attractions.  Entertainment shows on stage could be improved by offering less movies and talk presentations.  We enjoyed the warm, at times hot, weather while cruising the waters of Australia and Tasmania but did miss the sun during out time in the East Indies.