By day there is little by way of serious enrichment lectures. But there is Bridge, Bingo, trivia games, Sudoku, cooking demos, movies and mixology classes. Poolside bands add a festive air on sea days and sailaways.
Throughout the day and evening, The New York Times-sponsored Explorations Cafe is an active hub. It holds over 2,000 books (fiction, literature, travel, history, Harry Potter), plus a host of periodicals and a DVD library (complimentary for passengers in Deluxe Verandah Suites; modest charge for others). There are touch-screen interactive maps, write-on/wipe-off crossword puzzle tables, and a cubby of games and puzzles. There is an adjacent card room and several computer/Internet stations. (It's $.75 per minute to surf the Web; plans are available that bring the cost down to $.40 a minute.) Or you can sit for a few minutes in a reproduction Eames chair and try the music listening stations, poking around to test its range: Prokofiev? There. REM? Got it. Soundtrack from Chicago? Check. Barney the Purple Dinosaur? Yep.
Maasdam offers offers the Microsoft Digital Workshops, complimentary classes led by Microsoft-trained "techsperts." Passengers can learn to use computers to enhance photos (Windows Live Photo Gallery), produce and publish videos onto a DVD (Windows Movie Maker) and create personal webpages or blogs (Windows Live Services and Windows Live Writer). In addition, one-on-one coaching, called "Techspert Time," is available for more than 20 hours each week.
Maasdam's shore excursions cover a range of options. Depending on where the ship is sailing, look for a mix of historic tours, beach-focused excursions, moderately active eco-adventures and sightseeing trips.
One of the major updates during the dry dock was the removal of the Piano bar and the Casino bar (with its TV's tuned to sports). The resulting space was re-structured to form the chi-chi Mix Lounge -- three adjacent bars, with no walls between them. One of the bars serves only champagne, one only serves martinis, the third serves only beers and top-shelf liquor. A solo musician, singer or small combo performs during evening hours in Mix, where the table tops can be used for interactive games or to signal the waiter for another round.
Then there is the scene at the Crow's Nest (Deck 12), the ship's modish disco, with loud music and louder lighting effects and even louder curvy hot pink sofas, a DJ, electric slides and trivia contests. But the dance floor can be mainly populated by off-duty staff members: pretty spa ladies and cast members from the musical revue. (Scene-watching of a different sort takes place in Crow's Nest during the mornings and afternoons, when it's a spectacular perch for ocean viewing.)
Ah, the shows. Yes, there are the standard cruise ship musical extravaganzas, magic shows and comedians. These take place in the main show room where the seating has been changed (as part of the 2011 dry-dock) to provide better sight lines; the room is now named the Showroom at Sea. It is done up in Delft tiles, brass and Mahogany, metallic fabric wall covering, ship-print carpeting, and settees and sofas in lieu of standard auditorium seating. Shows occur twice nightly to accommodate both early and late diners.
The ship's size and layout make for easy orientation. Basically, the ship is anchored at one end by the two-level Rotterdam Dining Room and at the other by the two-story Showroom at Sea, with most public facilities grouped mainly in the middle on Decks 6, 7, and 8. Lido Deck is 11, with the gym, spa, kids club and sports deck topping out on 11 and 12.
There are plenty of spaces on the decks to lounge, read or rest, both in more populated zones (near the pools) and also off the beaten path. For a little privacy, check Deck 9 aft, where it is possible to be alone. Other passengers -- readers, snoozers, and snoozers pretending to be readers -- prefer the teak lounges around the Promenade deck, all facing the sea, which can be equally quiet.
Maasdam's public spaces showcase a collection art and antiques that reflect HAL's Dutch seafaring lineage -- a 19th-century wooden sculpture of a yawner (Gaaper, in Dutch), a gilded side table from 18th-century Italy, a canon barrel from the 14th century. But one of Maasdam's most notable art pieces is quite contemporary -- the towering glass sculpture by Luciano Vistosi that rises three levels from the Atrium, providing a dramatic visual axis for the public spaces.
The fitness center is open daily from morning to night and has a range of equipment and activities -- from Pilates to weight machines and the various climbing and biking simulators -- all with views on the sea. Maasdam has two modestly sized pools: a saltwater pool on the Neptune Deck (10) and the fresh water Lido Pool with its sculptural trio of dolphins. The Lido pool is flanked by two hot tubs and can be sheltered by a retractable cover to keep rain and/or intense sun rays out. On the "Sports Deck" (12), there's a serviceable basketball court, tennis and shuffleboard. There is a quarter-mile walking/jogging course on the Promenade Deck (6). (Note: Lanai Cabin windows on the Promenade Deck have been outfitted with a reflective film to prevent peeking in.)
The Greenhouse Spa & Salon -- colorful and sensual -- looks inviting, and the menu of services is enticing: the "Alpha Massage Capsule Destress Package", "Nurturing Relaxation Ceremony", "Exotic Coconut Rub" and "Lime & Ginger Salt Glow". There are several varieties of massage (plan on dropping at least $100), as well as more proletariat salon rituals such as haircuts and polish changes. There's complimentary fruit and herbal tea, as well as robes and spa sandals. Some treatments come with complimentary access to the Thermal Suite, a quiet blue and yellow tiled oasis with saunas, whirlpools, aromatherapy showers and heated tile lounges. For everyone else, the Thermal Spa can be accessed for $40 a day, or $150 for a seven-night cruise.
Maasdam's Club HAL facility is clearly an after thought, compact and low slung. It operates on at-sea days and on a limited basis (pre-registration required) during port days, and in the evenings from 7:30 - 9:30 p.m. Kids can stay for "After Hours" activities until as late as midnight, with an hourly charge after 9:30 p.m. Programs are geared to Kids (ages 3 - 7), Tweens (8 - 12), and Teens (13 - 17). There's a sign-in/sign-out sheet and "password" system for pick-up for the youngest group, but Tweens and Teens come and go as they please.
Club HAL's programming is modest. It tends to skew more toward easy entertainment (PlayStation, Disney movies, coloring, ice cream) than truly imaginative or enriching activities. And more than once during my cruise, descriptions exceeded the delivery: An "Alien Night" failed to produce much that related to aliens. And a "Pajama Party" didn't deliver on the advertised "ultimate pillow fight" until one mom urged the staff to make good on the promo copy.
Club HAL features a windowless room with six or so PlayStation systems, usually occupied by zoned-out boys whose only sign of life is their moving thumbs. A teen corner is little more than a corner, but a small often gathers there nightly for music videos, UNO and, probably, nascent flirting.
Private babysitting can be arranged through the front desk. In the late-night program at Club HAL, from 10 p.m. til 1 a.m., it is $5 per child, per hour. If there is sufficient staff available who want to babysit away from the Club, its $10 per hour for the first child, then $7 per hour for each additional child.
Editor's Note: All children on under age 12 are required to wear a special band on their wrists or ankles that identifies their designated lifeboat station.