Cruise report: HAL Nieuw Statendam transatlantic with teens

The kids and I sailed with Holland America Line once before, when they were fairly young. Embarking on HAL’s Nieuw Statendam in August 2022 was my husband’s first cruise with this company. We spent 24 days together on this grand vessel, visiting four countries in addition to the United States, and briefly crossing into the Arctic Circle.Certificate signed by Captain Barhorst showing crossing Friday, 8/12/2022 at 20:25

The experience was good enough for us to purchase Future Cruise Credits (FCC)—a minor commitment to future travel with the same company—while still on board.

Link to explanation of FCC’s at The Points Guy site

Our transatlantic (TATL) cruise itinerary called for boarding the ship in Boston, calling in several Canadian ports, followed by stops in Greenland, Iceland, Greenland again, Canada again, France in the form of the island of St. Pierre, Canada third time, then Bar Harbor, Maine, and finally back to Boston.

The round trip itinerary—no flights required from our New England home—absolutely sold us on this particular itinerary. HAL transatlantic cruise itinerary round trip Boston

If we hadn’t had a credit to use from a scheduled 2020 trip cancelled due to the pandemic, it’s unlikely we would have gone anywhere during the rampant snarling of summer travel in 2022. If we’d had an international flight planned, I can guarantee we would have called off any trip as reports of hours’ long lines snaking outside of airports proliferated in the lead up to our departure.

While our cruise wasn’t perfect, the hassles were fairly minimal and we found the experience well worth the bumps in those road that we did encounter.Holland America line vessel, rear view

I plan to publish a series of posts covering ports we visited, but, today, I’ll begin with an overview of embarking on transatlantic travel on HAL as a family with teens. I hope this perspective is helpful to other potential family cruisers since Holland America has a reputation for catering to an elderly crowd.

My kids enjoyed the trip, but there were very few people their age on the ship. We socialized with each other and with adults with whom I’d become acquainted on Cruise Critic prior to the voyage.

In addition to a lack of youth-oriented trip reports, I also couldn’t find much information for travelers with special needs regarding Polar-adjacent travel in the North Atlantic. I live with a chronic condition that sometimes affects my mobility and energy levels. Here’s hoping I can offer relevant tips for future adventurers with similar limitations in this and future posts.

First impressions

As it happens, one of the first SNAFU’s of our trip occurred at its very beginning: embarkation from Boston’s Flynn (formerly Black Falcon) Cruise Port was a mess. More frequent cruisers than I commented later that they’d never endured such a poorly executed boarding elsewhere or in Boston.

Here’s the official Massport site for the cruise terminal.

It’s easy to mock social media and blame it for many of society’s ills, but the utility of crowdsourced information cannot be denied. If I weren’t an active member of Cruise Critic—and a participant in a Roll Call for our August voyage—my embarkation experience could have been even worse. Tips from passengers who arrived at the port earlier than we did saved us at least a couple of hours of unnecessary waiting on site since we could elect to leave our home later to drive to the terminal.

To begin with, HAL sent notification a day ahead of boarding offering a completely revised boarding plan with new times for each passenger, all of which superseded the information given on one’s boarding pass. By not updating boarding passes—offered in digital format for cruise passengers just like most of us use on flights!—Holland America missed an opportunity to reduce confusion instead of sowing it.

Screenshot of HAL's recommended cruise app, NavigatorHAL reaped what it sowed. Thousands of people waited outside for hours beyond the embarkation time on their documents.

Nowhere in their last minute, change-of-plans missive did HAL inform embarking passengers that their digital documents would fail to update to reflect the new instructions. It’s bad to have a communication system that can’t update digital docs in real time; it’s worse not to confess to this fact up front to help reduce confusion!

At least two ambulances were required to whisk away people who weren’t up to the physical demands of standing in line for so long. We were incredibly fortunate that a recent heat wave ended before this marathon queue, but even 80°F became uncomfortable to many, and, while much of the line was shaded by adjacent buildings, there was no other shelter. Almost no seating was available, either.

Purple aluminum HurryCane walking stick freestanding on a wood floorBecause my own mobility limitations wax and wane, I always register a request with common carriers at the time of booking for wheelchair assistance. I’m often well enough to decline the requested service upon arrival at a terminal, but it is harder to get help on demand when it is needed if I haven’t initiated the process in advance. At Boston’s cruise port, it was lucky I was having a pretty good day.

When we arrived at the port, I checked in with an employee and noted we’d requested wheelchair assistance. According to that agent, “So did 1/3 of the people here waiting to board!”

Massport was short by at least dozens of personnel to offer wheelchair assistance. I believe that the lack of “timely assistance” was in violation of U.S. law. It reflected poorly on the port and on the city of Boston.

While the kind Massport employee I’d encountered couldn’t do much for me or anyone else, this lady did find folding chairs for a few of us who were concerned about walking the length of the line that disappeared out of sight across at least two long city blocks. Later arrivals sat on the curb.

My husband and kids trekked to the back of the line, and I waited in tolerable conditions if not comfort with the “special assistance” crowd. It was from that vantage point near the entrance that I saw one woman collapse and get taken away by ambulance.

By the time I boarded, I had yet to see a single passenger escorted onto the ship via wheelchair pushed by port employees. That period of time extended for well over an hour. The fortunate disabled passengers were those traveling with their own mobility aids and friends or family members capable of providing assistance.

After about an hour waiting alone, my family made it to the front of the line where I was sitting. Since no wheelchair assistance passengers were being taken aboard the ship as far as I could see, I rejoined them. My kids took my carry on bag, and I walked myself carefully through the disorganized thicket inside the terminal building with an occasional hand from one of my able-bodied relatives.Embarkation crowdThe gangway with which we boarded Nieuw Statendam was set at a particularly steep angle, too. A fellow passenger said they’d heard that the usual “jet bridge” style boarding ramp for Boston was broken and awaiting repairs, but I have no confirmation for that rumor. I was glad I’d brought my cane to help negotiate boarding, though, fortunately, I didn’t need it much once we were at sea.

Again, according to people who have cruised Boston more than I have, there is a port building here with some features of a modern travel terminal. We were not in that space! Instead, the Nieuw Statendam passengers were being processed in an open, warehouse-like space that might’ve felt familiar to our forebears’ experience at Ellis Island.

The flooring was uneven asphalt, there was no climate control, and there was no reasonable signage to help anyone self-select the correct lines. With various levels of “self check in” one might have performed prior to arriving at the port, there were at least three different types of confirmations that might be required to complete check in on site.

Through dumb luck, we were in the correct line for those who had performed the maximum online steps ahead of time, and we spent only ten to 20 minutes finishing up the check in process before preceding to the gangway that led onto the ship. The new facial recognition software did speed up check in, and, interestingly, could identify ³⁄4 of us with our N95 masks still in place.

One member of the family had to remove a protective mask to be correctly ID’d by the computer.

Some of the confusing requirements befuddling our embarkation day may be laid at the feet of COVID-19. There are national directives demanding certain steps or paperwork, it’s true. Failing to post signage to correctly direct thousands of boarding passengers into the correct lines based upon the status of government and health requirements, however, was entirely the fault of the Flynn Cruise Terminal and its staff.

The communication from HAL that changed boarding times at the last minute stated that a mandatory Coast Guard drill was the cause of the adjustment. That is probably true, but the Coast Guard didn’t prevent HAL from updating information on our virtual boarding passes or within the cruise line’s own app which they tout as an innovation in cruising convenience.

Neither was the Coast Guard responsible for inadequate staffing on the part of Massport, the government agency that runs land-side port operations.

Once we made it on board, the giddy relief of dropping our bags in our beautiful staterooms quickly eased the frustrations of the long morning day. Running the gauntlet of Boston’s cruise terminal was sufficiently exhausting that all of us—even the teens!—spent some part of our first afternoon aboard napping instead of exploring or reveling.

We were told in advance that we would board at 11:40; the port actually seemed to begin embarkation proceedings closer to 14:00 from our vantage amongst the crowds. My first photos from our cabin were taken at 15:45. We were scheduled to sail at 16:00. Nieuw Statendam actually cast off from its Boston mooring at 19:31.

port employees releasing ropes holding Nieuw Statendam to dockI think I’m being generous when I say we experienced a delay of at least three hours. For those who view lunch on the ship as the start of their vacation, our embarkation must have been particularly painful. It was certainly debilitating to those of us with health issues, and proved tiring even to young travelers.

Aside from mentioning that disembarkation three weeks later was similarly hideous—with poor communication again being the element for which HAL itself should be held fully accountable—I won’t go into detail for the latter fiasco. Suffice to say that I will still sail in or out of Boston because “not flying” remains on my list of “good to have” vacation characteristics, but I will always travel through this port carrying as little as possible to preserve my energy, and I will assume zero mobility assistance will be offered regardless of what’s legally mandated or promised.

I cannot, in good conscience, recommend embarking on a cruise out of Boston’s port for anyone with severe mobility restrictions at this time unless that person can afford to travel with sufficient personal assistance to cover all boarding needs. I hope the situation will improve if staffing levels recover, but I wouldn’t bet a friend or loved one’s comfort on it personally.

Also, on the subject of advance communication, I think it is worth pointing out that Holland America Line mandated the wearing of masks indoors, when not eating or drinking, for all passengers as well as crew for the duration of our sailing. This was not announced in advance of embarkation, though it could have been. The captain announced the policy on board the ship, and reminders were broadcast by him and other officers once or twice a day over the public address system.Disposable surgical mask

Most destinations, and all excursions, appeared to have dropped all COVID prevention rules or requirements, though the majority of our fellow travelers opted to wear masks on the one tour bus we joined.

Our group enjoyed a much greater degree of relaxation and feelings of safety due to the enhanced precautions, but some cruisers felt deceived and complained bitterly about the unexpected need to mask. At least one Cruise Critic member in my Roll Call group bragged about “always carrying a drink” in order to intentionally and spitefully subvert the protocols as much as possible.

Most Nieuw Statendam passengers appeared to make a sincere effort to adhere to the mask rules, in our personal experience on the ship. We elected to exceed HAL’s requirements, and we all avoided catching COVID-19, testing negative on our own home tests multiple times during and after the journey. There were reports of viral spread on the ship, however, and visibility of guests in isolation increased over time.

We believe that it was possible for cruise passengers to make personal choices to increase the odds of avoiding getting sick, but that the mask mandate made it many times easier for cautious travelers to do than it would have been otherwise. For example, I would have felt far less comfortable without the face covering requirement when I squeezed onto any of the crowded ship’s tenders required to visit the smaller ports on which we called.

Our family felt fortunate that HAL mandated masks; other passengers felt cheated out of the freedom they thought they’d been promised on the same voyage. Continue reading

Is one’s first cane a milestone? My HurryCane story

Is it a milestone when one first acquires a cane? There’s no blank to enter that data point in my baby book. Should infirmity be an addendum to my wedding album?

Purple aluminum HurryCane walking stick freestanding on a wood floorWhat I wouldn’t give for the event in question to be possession of the sword cane—yes, exactly that object of awesomeness you are imagining, where a bona fide sword emerges from a carved wooden stick!—handed down from my paternal grandmother’s second husband’s estate to my parents…

But—alas!—no, the cane I’ve acquired is a modern aluminum number. I needed it because my knee simply would Not. Stop. Giving. Out. One minute, we’re taking steps as always, the next: a lucky catch at the top of the stairs that left my heart pounding.

Thanks for the excitement, autoimmune disease!

I opted for a HurryCane (Model HCANE-PR-C2) because it was the only purple option available for immediate delivery from the nearest chain pharmacy. With the heretofore reliable knee deciding to dictate for itself whether it would bear weight or not, I didn’t have time to wait for delivery by UPS or another common carrier.

Not even Amazon-speed delivery would do! I needed support ten minutes ago.HurryCane folds for carrying or storage

With effectively zero knowledge of canes aside from a firm grounding on correct usage on the side opposite the bad joint—thank you, television reruns of House plus sitting in on a single one of Dad’s PT sessions after total knee replacement—I worried that a collapsible cane would be wobbly or otherwise not sturdy.

This fear was unfounded. Once the elastic strap releases the HurryCane’s three sections and each narrow end slots into its wider receptacle, the interior elastic pulls the entire stick firmly together, and my not particularly insignificant weight is borne with ease.

There’s no wobble to my HurryCane.

Weighing in at exactly 1 lb (455 g), the HurryCane is less stressful on my generally tender wrists than I feared a stick might be.

Historically, I’d wondered if a walking stick might make getting around easier, yet I feared stress on my small joints from carrying one. My large joints have tended to behave themselves more often than my tiny ones. This week’s experience of sudden failure was a novel one. My fingers or my toes typically give out first.

I thought toting a stick would add to my hands’ burden. Since I can dangle it from a wrist by its strap—or leave the HurryCane standing alone on a firm, flat floor—it has been perfectly fine to use around my house. Until I take it on my upcoming trip, I won’t have any commentary about using it outdoors or on uneven ground.screen shot of delivery order showing Walgreens knee compression sleeve and HurryCane for $39.95

If I’d had time to wait for Amazon delivery, I could’ve spent a mere $34 there for my HurryCane (±$2 for alternate colors), whereas Walgreens charged $39.95 regardless of the choice of black, purple, blue, or red.

Ordering direct, the official list price is given as $69.95, but the actual direct sale price is also $39.95; they do sell limited edition colors and discounted bundles at HurryCane’s own site, so check there first if your favorite color isn’t one of the four standards or you if plan to buy in bulk and color coordinate your cane to all your outfits.

A knee compression sleeve was my doctor’s advice, and I couldn’t wait two days for that to arrive, either.

I did end up ordering a second knee compression brace from Amazon that fit much better than the simple black neoprene tube my pharmacy stocked… once the adjustable one arrived.

Since it cost $20 more than the basic Walgreens model, I’m very glad that it did exhibit superior performance. Following the doctor’s advice to use compression on the affected joint was the most important factor in healing my knee, however, and the Walgreens garment did do the job with an occasional need to tug it back up sooner than the mail order one ever could.Amazon sales page for Neenca knee brace costing $27.99 for size XL

If you have a heavy thigh and a distinct size difference between the leg above and below your knee, you might also prefer the Neenca velcro knee compression sleeve. The Neenca wears somewhat cooler during a heatwave than the tube style Walgreens brace, but both felt hot when temps topped 90º F. Suffering begets more suffering!

When a body part as integral to movement as a knee acts up, any immediate solution is often more useful than the late-arriving ideal one. I was darn near delighted to see the DoorDash driver pull up with my pharmacy package that day.

There’s little more to say about the HurryCane beyond it’s timeliness when I needed it and its suitability to my needs. I do enjoy the ridiculous wordplay of its nomenclature.

As if any aluminum stick has the power to turn those of us who need one back into a Tasmanian Devil style tsunami of energy and motion!HurryCane next to ruler showing it is a few inches beyond 12" long folded

Then, too, the HurryCane does come with a rather minimal “carrying case; I suppose that’s worth a mention. It’s a thin poly or nylon pouch, “secured” shut by an inch of Velcro on the open end. There’s no handle or drawstring for the pouch.

After a few days’ use, I feel confident I will soon toss the useless sack, but the wrist strap attached to the cane itself works well enough to drag the stick along if I’m not actively leaning on it. Between the compression brace and the cane, my knee did seem to recover quickly over the following few days, and I did not need to report to the doctor for a steroid injection this time.

Folded up, the HurryCane measures about 15″ long. The base is wide enough to stand on its own on even surfaces; its three points form an equilateral triangle about 4″ on a side. The handle is 5 long, feels ergonomically curved in my hand, and is more rigid than giving or spongy.

Standing about 5′ 3 tall, I use the HurryCane at its lowest setting. It turns out most female users of canes use the wrong size. Follow sizing directions on the packaging or online using this WikiHow article or get help from a physical therapist if using a stick for support for the first time.

Many people use the wrong size cane, and I read somewhere that women are more likely to fall with an overly long cane than without any assistive device at all though that appears to be an open question.

Speaking for myself, putting a compression sleeve on my recalcitrant knee and offloading some of my walking weight to an aluminum cane seemed to give my complaining joint the support it needed to heal. I hope I won’t need my HurryCane again for a long time, but I’ll find a place for it in my closet.

Autoimmune disease offers nothing so readily as new ways to be baffled by one’s own body.

In truth, my dad did use the sword cane to get around for a brief period after each of his knee surgeries. I lived in fear, because I was pretty darn sure going to the grocery store with a concealed sword is not legal in this day and age. Fortunately, Dad’s an introvert, like me, so he was happy for me to do all the shopping, and he didn’t take the cane/weapon outside the house much.

It is probable that Dad was just amusing himself with my horror at the idea of him using the sword cane in public. He’s an attorney, so more aware of the law than most, and that sounds like something he’d find funny.

The cane stands easily with no fiddly adjustment necessary on hardwood and tile. It will usually balance on the low pile carpet we have in a few rooms, but generally tips over on my plusher bedroom carpeting. In the bedroom, I hang it over the knob on the back of a chair to keep it in a convenient and useful position when I go to sleep.