There is nothing wrong with mass market cruise ship lines. Holland America's first mistake is in its billing of being a "Signature of Excellence." Either you provide a luxury service or you do not. Sadly, HAL did not live up to expectations. Was it terrible? Of course, not it was a cruise! Would I sail the line again? No, I would not.
Upon checking in, we were given special tags that identified us as suite guests. These tags allowed us priority check in. Check in was quite smooth, we were on the ship in approximately twenty minutes. The best part was being able to jump the long (and required!) line to get our photo taken while boarding.
The suites are advertised as some of the largest at sea, and that holds true. The verandah, with its lounge chairs and tables, was quite delightful and worth the splurge. The beds were very comfortable and we loved the signature robes, so much so that we ordered them to take home. There is a separate bath and shower area. The shower is handheld, which took us a while to get used to. Until then, lots of water spilled on the floor. The bathroom floor itself had some patched holes on the floor. Lots of closets and hangers. Flat screen tv, dvd and slippers. Refrigerator. One complimentary bottle of wine, fruit and flowers. Our stewards were quiet and efficient. Ice was always replaced every day. Having a separate recycling bin for paper is a nice touch.
There was a lot written about the vibrating Eurodam. We felt it the most at the top of the ship, in Tamarind and the Crow's Nest. It was constant as long as we were moving (I was never so relieved to see a port). I put a bag on my bed and watched it move along to the edge with the vibrations. Think an electric toothbrush nonstop. It is real and noticeable.
Food was average to very poor. The MDR choices used an odd mix of spices and assortments. Nearly everything was served at room temperature and the meat was particularly tough (I'm not sure why they asked us how we wanted our filets everything was well done). Our waiting staff was very attend and kudos to the wine steward, who kept everyone's glasses full and happy.
We ate twice at the fabled Pinnacle Grill. The regular menu was poorly executed, the meat was overdone and the deserts underdone (really). Part of the hallmark of the PG is that they do table side service. Our waiter wanted no part of it; he kept trying to talk us out of anything that required 'extra' work (If I had a coin for every time he said, "Are you SURE you want to try that?").
On the other hand, Le Cirque night was to die for. I'm not sure why the kitchen crew could execute the Le Cirque menu but not there own. Having been to Le Cirque, I can assure you it was just as good if not better in the PG. If it was Le Cirque every night- I would have eaten there happily.
The food in the lido grill was on par with the MDR, which is not saying much. The best lunch I ever had was from room service...I'm not surprise its such a big hit with diners on HAL.
Tamarind was excellent. The atmosphere was lovely (although there was the vibrations!!) and the food delicious. We were only able to book dinner for a fee. The free lunch was full.
The Neptune Lounge had some lovely 'bites' to nibble on. We were so sick of the food on board, we actually had a 'lunch' of tiny bites from the Neptune Lounge.
The best meal was breakfast in the Pinnacle Grill. We went on an early tour and had to eat in the MDR. You could really taste the difference in the food.
We loved having drinks in the bar before dinner. We loved the hors d'oeuvres we received with our pre dinner drinks (except in the bar outside the PG- they didn't serve anything oddly enough). Suites can order these to their room through the Neptune Lounge.
There were almost no shows, except the staff show. We went to a fruit decorating class (in which the asst cruise director tried to interview a chef who spoke no English) and a cooking class (dull). Most people seemed to gravitate towards the bars and the casinos. The cruise director was grating- he seemed to be on the PA every hour telling a bad joke or just repeating himself.
We chose luggage direct. Initially, the Neptune Lounge printed our tickets incorrectly (Yikes!) Suites can disembark whenever they wanted to. It was a very streamlined process. There was a bit of a twist though- people who were disembarking with their luggage were not allowed to carry it down the steps. They had to wait on a huge line for a tiny elevator. This annoyed a lot of people who chose the self option for the speed and convenience. I think this should have been noted in the program.
Between the food and neverending vibrations, it was a disappointing journey. It's always good to try a cruise line to see what you like- and dislike. Those looking for a cruise with semi-luxury would do best to look for another line. I know I will!