This our most recent cruise was in an Superior Verandah (SY) Suite stateroom on Holland America Line's 'Oosterdam' to Vanuatu and New Caledonia. Our expectations were reasonably high - have you heard of the "Signature of Excellence" or Holland America's fine repuation before? It was quite simply the worst cruise we have been on. We had not travelled with the Holland America Line before and we were very disappointed in the overall experience compared to cruises on other lines we have taken in a range of stateroom classifications. This is for many reasons but here are the main ones. To begin with, we arrived at our stateroom to find that it was not adequately prepared. For instance we found clothing from a previous passenger in the wardrobe. Worst of all when we went to use the toilet for the first time we discovered that it was blocked and not clean. We reported it twice to customer relations before it was attended to. Once the toilet was unblocked it was then up to us to suggest to the ship's crew that it should be cleaned by our stateroom attendant for health and safety reasons. The toilet then blocked again on almost a daily basis for the remainder of the cruise and we seemed to be often on the phone asking for the technician to fix it, sometimes with lengthy delays. On two occasions the fire sprinkler over our bed started leaking and each time this needed repairing (and the bedding changed).
This was symptomatic of a bigger picture. The inside of the ship looked tired and not well maintained. The interior design is badly dated right throughout the ship. The decor was both garish and predominantly dark due to the colour scheme used in the public areas. Given that the ship is only ten years old the furnishings and fittings seemed to have come from a much earlier era (think of the excesses of 1980s decoration and you'd be on the right track). The cabin hallways looked like the hallways on a ferry.
Overall we got the impression that this particular cruise was run on the cost cutting. For example, used products in the bathroom were not replaced unless asked for. In the 'Lido' casual dining area essentially variations on the same food were prepared daily with no surprises. Whilst we did not eat there very often (only when this was the only lunch option available because the ship did not open the main dining room for lunch each day) we were surprised to find crew members eating there and this is something we have never experienced in the equivalent eating area on previous cruises.
However, in contrast, the meals in the main 'Vista' dining room were at least as good, if not better, than on many other ships we have sailed on. The waiting staff in the 'Vista' dining room was very welcoming, highly professional and made our dining experiences there very pleasurable. In fact they were a highlight of our cruise experience. Whilst the specialty restaurant, the 'Pinnacle Grill' provided a reasonable alternative to the main dining room, the standard of the food was not much of a notch up. On other cruises we have found the speciality restaurant to offer something special and exciting in comparison to the regular dining options. However on this occasion sadly this was not the case.
The daily on-board program was not as extensive as we are used to, having travelled on other lines. The offerings were basically the same each day and a boring predictability soon set in. There were very few surprise events and what was clearly missing was an established guest-speaker program, which is now a standard feature of many other cruise lines with whom we have sailed.
On the plus side, the outside of the ship is quite beautiful and she has a lovely promenade deck with plenty of deck chairs. Also, the ports we visited were what one would expect on a South Pacific cruise and we were not disappointed by them. The ship did not provide a great deal practical information about each port and there was a feeling that unless we took one of the organised tours we were very much left to our own devices to work out how to travel around the islands and what to see and do (which was not easy given the lack of infrastructure on many of the islands). We thought that it was poorly organised that the ship did not offer a shuttle service to drive passengers to the centre of each port town; we would have been happy to pay for this service had it been provided.
Whilst our stateroom attendant undertook his duties in a competent manner, we hardly ever saw him and so the friendly relationship that we have experienced on other cruises that can develop between attendant and passenger never eventuated. Similarly, we found that the majority of the crew on the ship lacked the genuine friendliness and sense of service we have previously experienced when cruising. There were so many instances where this was evident but by way of example, on one occasion as I was exercising in earshot, two of the staff in the gym had a lengthy conversation where they complained to each other regarding their work roster and forthcoming shore leave arrangements. Crew members holding such a conversation in front of passengers is very unprofessional in my opinion. This attitude seemed to come from the top down. Something we are unaccustomed to is officers who, when they walk past you, don't at least smile or give you the time of day. This was very much to case on this cruise.
Overall there seemed to be lax attitude exhibited by many members of the crew and it seemed that on this particular cruise they were not working to their full capacity. For example there were several instances where the ship's own rules were clearly broken by guests and yet nothing appeared to be done by the crew to point this out to them, given that it continued throughout the cruise. For instance, children (they were very visible on this cruise) were allowed in swimming pools clearly marked for adult-only use. In the main dining room some diners totally disregarded the stated dress code, especially for dinner. Whilst I don't particularly mind that these rules were broken, the point is that if the ship is going to publish them then they should take some responsibility to enforce them. It seemed to us that the crew didn't care enough to point out these rules to the passengers.
Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of life on board, and one we have not experienced before on any other cruise we have taken, was the overt alcohol culture. This included so-called, 'bar crawl' events organised by the ship's entertainment crew where passengers roamed the ship from bar to bar to celebrate what was called a 'Bar Olympics'. Similarly cocktail mixing events turned into rowdy and disruptive revelry that it was hard for other passengers to avoid. Far more than we have witnessed on other cruises, passengers walked around the ship with alcoholic drink in hand, some of them clearly intoxicated. Given the number of families on board I thought this was a very poor example of behaviour and one that should have been dealt with by the ship's crew. However, given that in part they were responsible for this code of behaviour, perhaps it is not surprising that they did little to deal with it. In this regard, and overall, it seemed that the attitude of the crew and this cruise was to appeal to lowest common denominator. If this is where the Holland America Line pitches its product count us out.