Following many cruises on other lines like Oceania, Windstar, Uniworld, Costa and NCL, my friend and I just returned from our first cruise on Holland America.
It was an 11-day round trip on the Zuiderdam from Fort Lauderdale that hit ports in Aruba, Curacao, Columbia and Costa Rica, and did a partial transit of the Panama Canal.
It was the ship's first cruise following dry-dock in Freeport. Almost all of the furnishings and carpets looked fine as a result.
Here's how I see it:
Our room, Penthouse Suite 7045, was great. We had an enormous balcony with a hot tub and six chairs, a king bed, a comfortable pull-0ut Murphy bed, two toilets, one shower, and an updated Xenon sound system (that would have been better if we'd brought CDs to power it). We paid extra to get the Suite about a week before embarkation as an upgrade from our aft wrap-around Verandah Suite.
The perks included with either Suite included expedited embarkation, access to the Neptune Lounge and its two able concierges, Peter and Mina; free laundry and dry cleaning; a welcome cocktail party; and a farewell Indonesian lunch that included a photo with the Captain and Hotel Manager.
The live musical entertainment on board at the Piano Bar (featuring Jeff Warren) and the Ocean and Queen's Lounges (featuring two separate versions of the HAL Cats with vocalists Kat and Darion) was outstanding. So was the Zuiderdam's ability to show NFL football in its Sports Bar and staterooms.
The food and service in the pay-per-visit Pinnacle Grill (featuring prime beef and table-side preparation of salads and flaming dishes) and Canaletto's (featuring Italian food) was terrific. So was the food and service at an on-shore restaurant we found, called Barefoot, near the Airport in Aruba that was only 10 minutes by taxi from the port.
The staffers we saw the most, our room stewards Ode and Sugi and our Pinnacle Grill waiter Arturo, did an excellent job. And the Sommelier, Bernie, was very knowledgeable.
The cocktails and sodas were fairly priced as was our Cellar Master wine package that included 5 bottles of wine, 2 Pinnacle Grill dinners, and 2 wine tastings.
Finally, the Zuiderdam and its staffers were friendly to the many passengers with disabilities that were on board.
The Air/Sea Department at Holland America accepted payment for two pre-cruise rooms for us at the Harbor Beach Marriott but inexplicably then only reserved one room. So we had to scramble on premises to get a second room. After our concierge faxed the Department our receipt for the second room from on board, it did give us a credit but no apology. It wasn't a great way to get started.
Our included bus transfers from the Marriott to the Zuiderdam and then from the Zuiderdam to the Airport took way longer than they needed to. It appeared that Holland America staffers weren't paying any attention to the punctuality of their outside contractors.
Early one morning, the Zuiderdam lost power to both its engines and needed to drift at sea with only emergency power from an auxiliary generator for 10-15 minutes. That didn't inspire confidence. Nor did the two real fire drills on board due to smoke in an electrical room and then in the incinerator room.
The food and service in the included Vista restaurant and Lido buffet was modest at best.
Finally, some frail passengers showed questionable judgment in taking grueling shore excursions. I believe one of them later on needed to be hospitalized in Costa Rica.
On balance, it was an enjoyable cruise so we'd consider taking another one on Holland America.