After a wonderful first experience cruising last year on Princess, we were excited to go again but this time with Holland America. The reviews I read prior to booking were a mixed bag of good and not-so-good so we took a chance. From the first night when we were all but scolded by the head steward in the dining room for lingering too long at a table designated for the 8:00 dinner seating (we had anytime dining but were SENT to the other dining room by those seating us) to the total lack of available food between 8pm and 11pm (and at other times during the day if you didn't want to wait for room service) to the "not bad but also not good and definitely not exceptional" taste/quality of the food to the lack of service by the stewards at the buffet - the whole realm of food on the ship was substandard. I could go into lots of detail but I won't, I'll just give a few examples: my husband asked for a glass of orange juice at the buffet after he finished his workout one morning at approx 10:30am - he was told breakfast was over and there was no more juice; he observed at lunch time, again at the buffet, that a passenger had plates in both hands but was handed a drink with no offer to assist her to a table; empty plates remained on tables while stewards fussed around with silverware or sweeping floors; waiting 30-45 min (pager in hand just like any other restaurant) for a table at dinner; when I called for a dinner reservation I was told the only times available were 5:15 or 5:30 - you didn't need a reservation for those times as they were always available!; running out of plates and ingredients to make sandwiches at 3:30 in the afternoon - the sandwich station was the only buffet station open when we returned from our excursion; etc.
On other topics, the entertainment and staging was just OK - no elaborate sets (actually not really scenery/sets at all) and only 2 dancers. One comedian was good, the other so-so. NO instructions on how to work the shower configuration - we never did really figure out how to not freeze or scald ourselves even after 7 days! About the only thing I can say was nicer than Princess were that the robes in the cabin were thicker and nicer. I had a couple of mixed drinks which were rather weak - I will only ever order wine or beer from now on as you can't (or it would be harder) to mess with the quality of those. My husband spoke to the management more than once about several of these issues and, while they listened, they only resolution they offered was "order room service" which isn't really an option unless you want to spend the whole cruise in your cabin waiting for it. As for the shore excursions, I don't think I will book those in advance in the future. We spent a lot of time on a bus to be told we had 15-20 minutes to see the destination. I can't blame HAL for this but it definitely was a disappointment. The schedule had to be kept so we were moved along quite quickly.
All in all I can only assume they were understaffed or no longer care about the service aspect of cruising. Needless to say we won't be sailing on HAL any time in the near future and that's exactly what I said on my survey at the end of the cruise. I will vote with my hard earned dollars and time to choose a line that provides exceptional service and makes me feel special. That's what I want on vacation!