This is our third Holland America cruise. Our last HAL cruise was in 2003. We did this back to back cruise that included the Baltics: Germany, Russia and the Viking cruise that included Norway, Iceland, Greenland and Halifax, ending in NYC.
We spent four days on our own in Amsterdam before the cruise and truly loved the city. The embarkation in Amsterdam was simple and easy. We were enjoying a Mariner Society luncheon in the main dinning room at 12:15. We went to our stateroom immediately after lunch and our luggage was in the room. Our cabin steward, Usep, was there to greet us and he provided outstanding service the entire 28 days. As a matter of fact the entire crew were helpful, gracious and always offering a smile. On the downside, the officers (or staff in officer type uniforms) were not so friendly or engaging. In most instances the would just walk past you even when you greet them. Back to this issue later.
Overall Ship: Very clean. Various public areas to sit and enjoy on sea days.
The two pool areas are well maintained. Gym nicely equipped. Spa is way overpriced. Pool bars are OK. The servers are either constantly asking you if you want a drink or they are non-existent. In most cases I just went to the bar and ordered my own. Ocean Bar is lovely but used by the art dept. for their auctions, so most days this area is not available to enjoy. The shops are worthless. Staff are not friendly and the items are definitely overpriced. $18.75 for a baseball cap is not duty free pricing.
Dining Experiences: We had most of our breakfasts and lunches in the Lido buffet. Breakfast was fine, if you get there early. Otherwise you won't find a table and if you do it is dirty. More than once I cleaned my own table. The food selection was your usual breakfast fare. But why can't they serve hot bacon and/or hot sausage? Always cold. Lunch selections were varied and again if you show up at 12:00 noon the tables will be full. For many meals we just got a plate and sat in the pool area to eat. We tried the main dining for these meals and the service was snail slow so the Lido is your better option. We had our dinners in the Main Dining Room, downstairs. We were under the impression that we could make reservations whenever we like to eat. WRONG! You can make a reservation until 6:30 p.m. They do not take reservations for 7:00 or 7:30 p.m. Its first come first served. And a long waiting line for a table for 2. Unless you want to eat with six strangers. Each night you are assigned a different table. We prefer the same table or at least the same area so we enjoy the same waiter & staff.
We finally got our same table assignment on day 3 but it was at 6:30 p.m. Jaya, our waiter, was exceptional and he helped to make the cruise exceptional. Now you will see staff, in officer type uniforms walking around the dining room. Why they are there is a mystery. They just get in the way. One person in particular, a young woman (she is also in the Lido during the day)is always talking & laughing with other officers, bumping into servers, rubbing the officers backs, patting them on the backside. Yes this during dinner then all the servers are busy, she is having fun with her associates. One evening she was folding napkins at the service station and the poor waiter was trying to sort out 8 dinners to be served. She never moved or tried to assist and was oblivious to being in his way. She and other officers in the dinning areas think it is fine to reprimand staff in front of the guests. Most unprofessional. These officers seem to think they are better than the staff they are supervising. It is a shame that HAL allows supervisors to act like this. Now the specialty restaurants. I personally don't like to pay extra for these places but do try them at least once. Canaletto was a nice Italian venue but not worth the extra charge. The serve here was nice. Pinnacle Grill was OK but again the food didn't warrant the extra charge. The service was nice here too. Now the "Le Cirgue" night, where the Pinnacle Grill is transformed into the famous NYC Le Cirque restaurant. They must be kidding. First of all, there was no transformation. We have been to NY's Le Cirque many times and it's owner Sirio should sue HAL for using his name and reputation on this farce of a venue. Our server arrived, greeted us and handed us a menu. I stated that we would like a cocktail first before we ordered. She sent over the wine server. Our drinks were delivered and she came back to take our order. Again I stated that we would order after our cocktail, we were in no rush. She insisted that she must place the orders now. We ordered the full dinner with the wine pairing. Our salad arrived within one minute. And our drinks were barely started. Ok. Let it go. We did not touch our salads and continued to enjoy our drinks. The soup arrives and our salads were not touched and/or removed from the table. The server got flustered and asked what was wrong with the salad. She was attempting to put the soup in front of us with the salad dishes in the way. We stated again that we wanted a leisurely meal and why were we being rushed. We arrived at exactly 7:30 p.m. and it was now 7:45 p.m. with a second, soup course, arriving. I also asked the server why she is serving food and there are no wine pairings. She said that was the wine servers job. She got him over. (Oh, the soup is now on the serving station.) This wine server said we never told him to give us the wine. I stated that I ordered the wine with the waitress. He then began to yell, yes, yell, at her. He stating that she can not take wine orders. Hey the menu stated dinner and wine parings. I prepaid for dinner and wine paring. She runs out and the manager come over. The manager wants to know what is wrong. Her staff are wrong and she is asking us. We are told that the one hour service for this meal is what their guests expect and she can not think of what is wrong with one hour dining. You must be kidding. We are on a ship. This is supposed to be a special experience. One hour for dinner! We gave up and said just give us the food. Oh and no wine. Even with all this drama, we were out of there at 8:35 p.m. Oh and the food is not Le Cirque quality, not even close. The closest they got to this restaurant was animal chargers. There were two other couples in our area having service problems too. The six of us left together, went to the bar and became friends for the balance of the cruise. So thank you for this lousy experience, we met great people that were in the "same boat" as us.
Thankfully Tamerind was a exceptional Asian venue. We enjoyed two dinners and lunches with great service and wonderful food.
And to think that Tamerind and Le Cirque is on the same ship.
Ports of Call: Great locations. We enjoyed them all. We were in St. Petersburg for two days and thankfully we booked our own private tours. Over the top experiences. The HAL excursions are expensive for what they offer. Do your own and enjoy a great day at half the price.
Entertainment: The HAL band is very good. The specialty performers are fabulous. But the ship "singers and dancers" are terrible. Some can not sing and some can not dance. One male dancer kept stepping on his partners feet. And the choreography is ridiculous. They are constantly moving and trying to sing. And the band plays louder than they can sing. A true amateur production. The kids in high school do a better job. I gave them five minutes each night and the shows were always the same. Don't waste more than five minutes. The cruise director, JC, was a little too vivacious. To him everything was wonderful, special, unique, once in a lifetime when he was on stage. We met him twice off stage and what a phony. Not at all nice and friendly when he is not performing in front of a crowd. Rude, abrupt, unfriendly seems to be his off-stage personality.
Dress Code: Don't bother with tuxedos for formal nights. Although men do wear them we also saw guys with only plaid shirts and jeans in the main dinning room on "formal nights". And women with spandex pants, large sequin blouse and rubber flip flops. So HAL might have dress code suggestions but they are definitely NOT enforced. We saw bathrobes and bare feet in the Lido during breakfasts and dinner too.
Overall: We booked this trip because of the ports of call and the great price we got for the back to back cruises. We did have a wonderful trip but like other Carnival owned ships, you get "nickles and dimed" to death. And services are either paid extra for or non-existent. We enjoy cruising and will continue to do so. HAL is never our first chose when researching ships. But if the right itinerary comes up and we get another discounted price we will consider another HAL cruise. If you have high expectations, select another cruise line.