It may be un fortunate that this review is on a HAL cruise immediately after we completed one with Azamara - the comparison was not positive for Holland America and our Noordam cruise. Having cruised Panama Canal and South America in Veendam last year we knew basically what to expect with Holland America. Azamara Club Cruises was a new experience. The score? Azamara Journey Spice Route 10, Noordam Ancient Mysteries 6.
There is no doubt that those who cruise to enjoy the cruise experience and the cultural aspects of places visited are better suited to a smaller ship rather than the glitz and glamour, all you can eat, on-board entertainment activities of the larger ones. Noordam is larger, it had the spit and polish, bigger showroom, larger casino, more bingo sessions but never the phrase "bigger is not necessarily better' been more apt.
The positives? Embarkation at Athens was seamless and painless. Our dining and beverage stewards were wonderful. Excursions were well organised and the ship's overall appearance was as you'd expect.
Some negatives: The hard sell. The first thing we were handed as we boarded the Noordam was a flyer on the spa and it's "special" offers along with some raffle tickets, not only for the spa but also the ship's shop (of course you had to attend at particular times to see if you won and when you didn't you were expected to buy something. Then there were the endless announcements and brochures, pamphlets etc about wine tasting (at a price), cocktail mixing (at a price), the art auctions, the cruise photos and DVDs, the tacky souvenir and other "cheapies" at special times in the shop and at others on the pool deck. Even the short but interesting look through the ship's kitchen ended at the specialty restaurant where you were urged to make a booking. It never stopped and became annoying.
The Lido buffet: Long lines, constantly running out of food and other items (after lining up to self serve coffee or tea only to find out there were no mugs, the machine had broken down (again) and there was no milk anyhow and no one was around to care or do something about it). We eventually gave up the Lido and ate breakfast in the dining room.
Food quality in the Lido not up to what we had experienced on our other cruises. In the main dining room the standard initially was good but seemed to drop in quality as the cruise progressed.
Themed shows were good and the guest entertainers, apart from one - a so called comedian who was heckled from the floor before most of the audience left - were good but the cruise director was wooden and lacked personality.
Clearly the bottom line is everything and HAL must be hurting . The ship seemed to be understaffed, there were shortages, there were noticeable short cuts and there was the "hard sell". The poor staff whose work loads were heavy were also under pressure and in fear of losing their jobs. It became embarrassing for them to virtually beg to be given a 9 rating and then for the cruise director in his disembarkation talk spend five minutes appealing for survey returns and the importance of 9s.
And to top it all off, the morning of disembarkation when we got our on board account there was a note that as we had not specified how we would pay our account our disembarkation would be delayed until this was rectified. Thinking this strange as the account had my masked out credit card number at the top and knowing that we had signed the appropriate forms I went to the front office to "sort it out". After waiting in line for 20 minutes I was told "No sir- everything on your account is OK. That appears on all accounts!!!!" Knowing for a fact it didn't as we had a friend whose account had nothing of the sort my comment to the desk person was "That's another reason why we are very unlikely to ever travel Holland America again". That still stands.