Some comments re: our recent wonderful cruise on Maasdam. Seeing as we live just outside Boston, we had our car company pick us up at 10:30 and after loading the luggage we headed to "MY" Maasdam. We arrived at about 11:00, turned our checked luggage over to the stevedores and entered the terminal. There was a very short line but they directed Suite pax through a slightly different route and we checked in immediately. We happened to be the very first two people to board and we were aboard by 11:20. We had the choice to go to Neptune Lounge but we went to Lido and they were just about ready to begin serving lunch. Our first meal aboard gave a hint of what was to come. We totally enjoyed our first lunch and....every meal thereafter. We have had food as good as this on other "dam" ships at other times but this was very, very good. We thought Executive Chef Martinus Groenendijk and his sous chefs to be excellent. Susan Singer was supervisor of Lido and she is everywhere, watching everything and sharing her beautiful smile with everyone. She always saw to the little details that make all the difference. She noticed me walking by with a few packages of whole grain rye crackers in my hand and as we had chatted previously that I enjoy whole wheat and whole grains, she casually asked me if I had found all I wanted. That extra attention is always so welcome and appreciated. Our cabin was ready by about 1:15 and we went to put away our carry on and lock up valuables. We found our cabin spotlessly clean and everything in perfect order. Our steward, Anang, came in to introduce himself and he was delightful then and remained so the entire cruise. He gave us excellent service. We were in 020...next door to the cabin we occupied b-to-b over last Thanksgiving. Everything in 020 worked perfectly. We never required the plumber as we did last cruise. We spoke with our neighbor and they said all was fine in their cabin too. A/C worked fine, plumbing, all was perfect. The ship looks beautiful and has always been a favorite "dam" ship of mine. The flowers were as lovely as ever and everything was in sparkling, well maintained condition. Maasdam is ten years old and clearly should have many more years to provide us with wonderful, safe voyages. (I felt so silly for it to take me days to figure out why the floral arrangements had a red and white theme......duh....we were on a Canada/New England cruise. The flag of Canada, of course, is red and white.) And speaking of Canada....The friendliness of the people in Halifax and St. John was incredible. We felt so very wanted and it seemed to be a law that every resident must be polite and friendly and offer every assistance to cruise pax. What a nice touch to be handed a beautiful rose as we disembarked and began our exploring. We very much enjoyed our visit to Halifax. We enjoyed a Suite cocktail party the first night in Neptune Lounge and it was wonderful. We got to see some friends we knew from previous cruises and made new friends. Captain Schoonderbeek and Hotel Manager Kees Streuding were great hosts and we enjoyed a chat with each. For some reason, not alot of suite pax came to the party (unlike all the others we have attended) so that gave us a few extra minutes chat time with Captain and Hotel Manager. Sherry Govender is Guest Relations Manager and is brilliant at her work. She is a stunningly beautiful lady IMO and so gracious. Because we have cruised alot, we have had the opportunity to meet her before when she was Front Office Supervisor and knew it was only a matter of time until she, very deservedly, became a GRM. When she first saw us at the Suite Cocktail, she greeted us so warmly, she made us feel so welcome to be aboard. Maitre d' Ibnu so kindly honored our request for our "normal" table and it makes alot of difference for us to be able to dine where we most enjoy. Our first dinner was excellent and each meal remained so. Everything was served smoothly and exactly as we requested. We had two dinners in Pinnacle and they were both very good but not as excellent as we have enjoyed in other Pinnacles. Obviously we thought it good or we would have not returned, but it was not excellent. Service was spotty. Some of it quite smooth and paced well, and then there would be a long wait. Three desserts were served and we waited far too long for my husband's Baked Alaska to be delivered. They should have been brought all at the same time, of course. Not that big a deal but noticeable. One of the ladies at our table ordered her filet mignon medium rare and it came well done. Certainly they brought another but we all know how miserable it is when three of four people have their food and the other person is waiting. Everyone is uncomfortable and it detracts from enjoyment. When her replacement steak came it was very good and she was pleased but it should have come as ordered the first time. A poster from another board asked "Did we enjoy sailing to ports located in "our back yard" Yes.....we did, very much. It was a joy to not have to put up with any airports or airplanes but it was also fun to visit Portland, Bar Harbor, Oak Bluffs (Martha's Vineyard).....places that are within three hours of our house but we had never visited before though we've lived here all our lives. We are not big on ship's tours and much prefer to roam off on our own. We so very much enjoyed walking, strolling, skooting into shops . We found all of the ports to have done alot of redevelopment of waterfront sections. They are, of course, touristy but, afterall, we were tourists. They are kept immacuately clean, beautifully planted with flowers and much design thought went into "the settings". Coming ashore and seeing how attractive everything looks put us in a happy frame of mind to roam and explore. In Portland, we stopped on the harbor at a pretty outdoor wharf restaurant and feasted on boiled lobsters. The prices were inflated but....when one is sitting at a pretty harbor, looking at our gorgeous Maasdam, the price become very worth it. We totally enjoyed our lunch and were happy we stopped there. We have lived on the New England coast all of our lives and have never seen such fog as we encountered the whole week. The day we boarded was a gorgeous summer day in Boston, by that night fog developed and we dealt with it until the end of our cruise. The bridge worked hard all night, every night safely navigating us from "here to there". The foghorn sounded all night every night....something we have never experienced before. I found the fogs to be intriguing and perhaps a bit mystical. They did not spoil my enjoyment at all. It took a few hours the first night of adjusting to the sound of the foghorn but after a while either I stopped noticing or it became a sound in the background that began to be normal. Late every afternoon, Captain Schoonderbeek would speak to us about "where we had been and where we were going" and we enjoyed his talks each day. He explained the fog to us (if I correctly understood ) that because New England had such a severely cold winter this past winter season, the water temperature dropped so low that it never rose this summer to normal warmer temps. When the warm air hits the cold water, a fog develops. We found the crew to be as friendly and have as wide smiles as always. There is some "indecision" among the stewards as to how the new tipping system will effect their bottom line. They understandably are worried they will be making less money than in the past but are waiting to see after a few more months of the new system is in place. Our choice was to leave the automatic in place and to tip additional at the end of the cruise to those who took such good care of us. We did see others passing out envelopes so we know we were not the only ones. I do have to think that if things were going so badly for the stewards and if they were sure their income was dropping, they would not be such a happy (appearing) crew. They work so well together and they are so eager (as always in the past) to make pax happy. We had such a wonderful time that we tried very hard to stay aboard. The ship was sold out for this week but we asked if they learned of a cancellation to let us know. Signature of Excellence is being put into place on Masdam. Suite towels no longer have the HAL logo...they are plain white but the bath towels are larger. The duvets on the beds are delicious and the mattresses very comfortable. I was not crazy about the pillows. The newest version of Daily Program is on Maasdam and it takes some getting used to. We were surprised as it it quite different than in the past. I would recommend this cruise to everyone.....we hope to go again on October 2, 2004. Any questions, I'm happy to try to answer.