This was our 9th cruise overall, and third NYE cruise. We have sailed on Oceania, NCL, and Carnival. This was our first cruise on Holland, and our expectations from reviews and reputation; we expected something between Oceania and NCL. Overall, the staff and service was exceptional (except for one area that I will address later). Embarkation was a bit surprising. Having secured a Deluxe Veranda Suite (SB), we were eligible for VIP Priority embarkation. When we arrived in the VIP line, there were eight couples in front of us and two workers checking passengers in. Having done VIP check-in on the other lines, we expected a few minutes per person to do the normal check-in procedures. However, 4 of the 8 couples must have incurred problems with paperwork or not done the online check-in prior to the sailing. These couples took 10-15 minutes each. Our check-in at the counter took about 2 minutes. By far, the longest priority check-in I have experienced on any cruise line. I will say the cabin steward delivered the checked bags faster than any prior sailing. Although, standing in the VIP line for over an hour gave the baggage personnel plenty of head start.
The first night, we ate in the main dining room. Overall, selection of food during the cruise was okay and quality was about the same. Nothing memorable, but nothing disappointing either. The signature restaurant, Pinnacle Grill, is exceptional. Unfortunately, we were only able to get one reservation during the whole cruise. Went to the Neptune Lounge a number of times to get priority reservations, but was not able to secure any other days for the rest of the cruise. On other lines, when we have been in the top suites, we were given priority reservations. Apparently, Holland does not do the same. Additionally, because this was a NYE cruise, making reservations in advance online was not allowed either, even though we booked 8 months in advance. Lido buffet had a good selection of food for lunch and dinner (just make sure you check the hours of operation because they are not open as much as other ships). The pizza and pasta station did a good job of keeping up with the pace of customers. The Caribbean buffet in the pool are at the middle of the cruise was probably some of the best and most original food from several of the islands.
The private island, Half Moon Cay is very nice and permanent amenities are the best we have seen from other lines. Also nice was that we were the only ship that day. Procedures for the tendering was some of the best we have experienced.
Upon arrival back to the ship, the evening was a formal night and NYE. Having read previous cruise comments and reviews, we were expecting a fun evening. Dinner was okay, and they passed out paper hats and noise makers as you exited the dining room. The NYE parties were spread out throughout the ship. The main party was in the theater with the Cruise Director and Entertainment staff. The two hours of entertainment leading up to midnight consisted of watching the staff and assorted passengers dancing to the Electric Slide, Macrena, Cha Cha and other assorted night club tunes. They did come around 10 minutes before midnight to offer one glass of their house champagne. Really, this is what I paid the higher cruise fare compared to other sailings. To say we were disappointed is a severe understatement. We went to the night club after the midnight balloon drop where the netting holding the balloons would not release (actually was funny and fitting). Upon seeing the multitude of elementary, middle and high school kids and their families, we decided just to have our own celebration on our balcony.
Probably the one event that has made my determination on Holland was the policy and procedures of how they run their Poker Tournaments. The night before our sea day, they announced through the newsletter that they would conduct a two Poker tourneys at 1130 and 1330. There are only ten seats for each. After dinner, I went down to sign up. Upon looking at the sign-up sheet, seems one individual (same handwriting) signed up the first eight slots of both tourneys, and the other two and all standby slots were already filled. I asked the person in the casino cage how they can let the same eight people occupy both tourneys and was told "first come, first serve". I pointed out that I understand that principle, but showed the worker how one person effectively shut out the other 2200 passengers (these are the same people who played in all the other tournaments as well). I asked to talk to the Casino Manager (Robert Beatty), and was told he was not available and to check back in the morning. Came back the next day and asked for him at 1000, and was told he would be in the casino at 1100. Came back then, and no sign of him. To make sure I would have evidence of what I was complaining about, I took a photo of the sign-up sheet with my IPAD, to which I was told "you cannot do that sir". I informed the worker that they knew my cabin number and they could have it back when the Casino Manager comes to talk to me. I never saw the Casino Manager or anyone further about the matter. I still have the photo (in case Holland would like to discuss or see the evidence).
Disembarkation was the biggest disaster I have witnessed in all the cruises. Since we had a flight three hours after the first passengers were allowed to depart, were we given number 1. At 0800, those passengers willing to take their own bags were allowed to disembark. Group 1 was scheduled to leave at 0815. So, at 0815, we headed down to the gangway area and proceeded to hear the announcements over the next 30 minutes of the six groups after us. All of us that were group 1 were confused and asked security what was going on. We were told there was an issue and that group 1 bags were not ready. Really, the people who all have flights within 2-3 hours of disembarkation and were given group 1 are not ready. Just before 0900, they finally announced our group. We made it to the airport, checked in, got through the TSA line and arrived at the gate as they were making the announcement for all passengers on our flight.
Overall, the staff was friendly and attentive. The policy and procedures need work. For the price we paid for a NYE cruise, I will look for other options in the future, as we were not impressed.