I was somewhat weary of taking a cruise over the Thanksgiving holiday, but wanted to take my mother away for the holiday. Holland America offered a very reasonable rate for two, single-occupancy, inside state rooms, so I booked them.
I have been on two Holland America cruises in the past. The first on the Zaandam, which I thought was a magnificent ship perfectly suited to my needs. And another on the Maasdam, which while not as nice as the Zaandam, still suited me very well. I am a fairly young man (about to turn 40) but prefer quieter, more elegant cruises. I enjoy cruising with older folks, as I find that it makes for a much more relaxing experience. This is why I like Holland America, and it's this quieter, and more elegant style of cruising I had come to expect from this cruise line.
I found the boarding procedures greatly improved from my previous Holland America cruises. We were able to drive up to the terminal, drop our bags, and then park the car; a great convenience when travelling with my 6X year old mother. We got into the terminal at about 2pm, and there were virtually no lines, and no wait to board. I had even forgotten my Tuxedo, had it overnighted to the ship, and it was waiting for me right inside the terminal's front door; very impressive!
We immediately made our way to our rooms, which were clean and all ready for occupancy. My luggage had already been delivered, my mother's arrived about an hour later.
The rooms were the first disappointment. They were by far the smallest of any cruise ship I have ever been on, including NCL. I was of course a bit disappointed that we hadn't gotten an upgrade. My Mother, however, rightly reminded me that we were the last people who would be upgraded from the smallest rooms, because we were two single-occupancy guests. Who was more perfect to put into these small rooms? I agreed, and quickly got over my disappointment. Just be fairly warned that these are not the standard inside and outside staterooms on HAL's older ships, they are much, much smaller and I really can't imagine a couple fitting comfortably in them. (I took lots of pictures of the rooms, which I will also post on this site.)
Other than their size, the rooms are fairly well-appointed. However, the TVs are not flat panel, and there were no bathtubs in the bathroom. The new bedding program was very nice, and the beds were the most comfortable I've been on at sea. I had a problem with the room not being cool enough on the first night at sea. Admittedly, I like to keep my room very cold. Although I had the thermostat at its coolest, the room was still oo warm. I called the front desk and although they couldn't address the a/c immediately they did send me a huge floor fan (took up half the room) which was adequate for the first night. The next morning they had done something that made my room much much cooler...well done.
The ship was not gaudy as some have described it. All of the Holland America ships incorporate different levels of creative and stylish design. I remember the Zaandam having beautifully designed chairs and lamps in their lounges. On the Oosterdam the color schemes have changed a bit, but the general aesthetic of high-style and quality furnishings and appointments hasn't slipped. I will say, however, that I think the new layout is quite hodgepodge compared with some of the older ships. The spaces seemed more open and inviting on the Zaandam and Maasdam. Here the space felt somewhat circuitous...like it was just one little room after the other. The flow was definitely adversely affected.
My main complaint regarding the Oosterdam was the quality of the service. If there was ever an argument to be made against compulsory tipping my experience on Holland America is it. When I travelled on Zaandam and Maasdam, tipping was done voluntarily (or actually I should say that it was not expected.) However, when someone does a good job of serving you, it's natural to want to thank them with a tip. My cabin stewards and dining stewards on those two older ships were absolutely top notch, and they earned themselves very generous tips.
Holland America's new compulsory tipping (it's added automatically to your stateroom bill) has had the very obvious effect of creating a generally indifferent service staff. Service in the dining room was awful. We'd order a soda, or glass of wine and would wait a 1/2 hour...no beverage. We'd ask someone else where our drink was....and they'd disappear. By the time it was brought to us, dinner was over. This happened almost every night. Our servers, while nice, were just not very good at their jobs. One of our dinner companions was diabetic. Every night she'd give clear instructions as to how she'd need her dinner served (no sauce, etc.) Every night she'd have to send back her meal, because her instructions were completely missed. These are things that dining room staffs need to be expected to handle with aplomb...they simply could not.
My room steward, again while a very nice fellow, was simply poorly trained. Every day I asked for laundry bags, every day they were not left in the room. Lot's of little things were missed every day, which left me in the position of having to track him down and make special requests....it just shouldn't be that way.
Holland America's service, which in my opinion was its strongest, differentiating characteristic has clearly slipped.
My final complaint was about the programming. Again, while the cruise director's staff all seemed very nice, they seemed to forget what people come on a cruise for: namely peace and quiet. Why have cruises become another venue for overly loud music and compulsory participation? I enjoyed going to the shows, some of which were fairly good, but the music played before the shows was so inappropriate and loud it made it painful to sit through. -- Dear staff: every venue is not a New York City night club, improved only through the volume of the pounding thump of the bass -- Music -- at all times -- needs to be appropriate for the crowd, and played at a reasonable volume. The shows, while ok, were all over the map, and failed to really get anyone too excited. When will cruise ship show directors realize that bigger, flashier and louder productions won't necessarily get a crowd into their shows...
I feel that Holland America is suffering from split personality disorder. It can't decide if it wants to be the classier, quieter, big cruise line, or go after the families and partiers. I'm sure it feels lured by the successes of RCCL, but how will it differentiate itself in the marketplace? I hope they realize that not all younger cruisers (is 39 still younger??) want to be blasted out of their seats with too loud music or be over-programmed. I go on cruises, because I long to get away, sit in a deck chair and read good books. It looks as if this will become more difficult on Holland America Line.