We flew from Los Angeles to Sydney on Qantas Airlines two days before departure to allow some recuperation time before boarding the Statendam. It also gave us time to reacquaint ourselves with Sydney since our last visit in December 1999.
We arrived at the ocean terminal about 11:00 AM. Our initial impression was one of complete disorganization. We had pre-registered to save time, but still were presented with more paperwork to fill out. They had one small table outside the formal embarkation center with 5 people trying to distribute handouts to meet the varying needs of the guests (non-registered/pre-registered). It was mayhem. Once we got through that area into the formal center, the operation smoothed out with multiple stations to process the guests. Once we cleared that area we were directed to the Lido for lunch and await our cabins. We finally got into our cabin about 2:00 PM with our baggage not being completely delivered until after the emergency drill and departure. We never did hear the emergency drill warning in our cabin, finally walking up to our assembly station after waiting about five minutes past the published time. It was not until a day later that we found out you had to have your TV tuned to channel 40 or 44 to hear any announcements. The PA system could not be heard in the rooms with the door closed. During the emergency drill, I noted that a significant number of people were not wearing their life preservers properly, yet no effort was made by the crew to correct the situation.
We chose this particular cruise because of the itinerary. We were not disappointed. Each port was unique and we enjoyed each stop immensely. We opted out of the ship's formal excursions because we thought the prices were excessive. We did two private tours on our own Burnie, Tasmania; and Rotorua at Tauranga, New Zealand. Both are highly recommended. On the other stops we disembarked the ship and walked around the local area. All attractions (museums, gardens, shopping areas, etc.) were within easy walking distance. Getting to the center of town was a ripoff using the shuttle bus. Some towns provided a free shuttle, but where the towns didn't provide a shuttle, the ship provided a shuttle for $10 US/$15NZ, even if it was only a few blocks ride. That should have been a freebee.
We were impressed with the ship's emphasis on cleanliness and avoidance of possible contamination with the Norovirus. Every time you turned around, a ship's crew was offering hand sanitizers. It became a way of life and to our knowledge there was not one case of sickness on board.
The food in the Lido was good but lacked variety. There were usually 3 or 4 main entrees and serving was handled cafeteria-style by the staff behind the counter. We tried eating breakfast in the dining room the first morning, but never returned because of the slow service. Several people at our table got up and left after ordering because of the delay in getting served. We ended up eating breakfast and lunch in the Lido for the rest of the cruise.
The food in the Rotterdam dining room was very good and beautifully presented, but the wines were highly overpriced. The staff made every effort to meet our special needs and often provided items not on the menu to fulfill our desires. We were seated at the late seating which we were not happy about, but had no choice. We were told the early seating had been filled since last May. Seeing the fact that the majority of the guests were elderly, it was not unsuspected. But the dinner schedule was a pain. The early seating ate at 6:15/6:30 and attended the 8:15 show and the late seating ate at 8:15/8:30 and attended the 10:15 show which let out about 11:15. As a result, the late seating was only about 75% occupied. To top it off, all the lounges closed at midnight, so there was absolutely nothing to do after the show. You could shoot a cannon anywhere on the ship after midnight and never hit a soul. My wife and I and two other couples were all alone drinking coffee in the Lido after 12:00. There was absolutely no food available -- and definitely no midnight buffet! Their chocolate extravaganza one night started at 10:30 while we were still in the theater and was closed and cleaned up by 11:30!
The entertainment schedule for the lounges was exactly the same play for 45 minutes, 15-minute break, play for 45 minutes. Unfortunately, they all took the break at the same time! We mentioned this to the Cruise Director near the end of the cruise and he said he would look into it. He also mentioned that the contracts with the musical groups did not let them play after midnight!
The theater group for the Broadway productions included the most energetic singers and dancers, I have ever seen. They put on great shows with dance synchronization that was equal to any Broadway show. They were, however, greatly limited by the stage production capabilities. The professional acts were the standard cruise ship acts with a few standout performers. But the ship's grand piano was one of the most pitiful pianos I've ever seen, especially with the spotlight showing every scratch, finger mark, and palm print. The last night's show was composed of staff and crewmembers making a disastrous attempt to entertain us. We felt it was a waste of their time and ours, as well. There were two nights where the Indonesian and Filipino staff put on native shows. The acts, though non-professional, were very well received and it was fun seeing your waiter or cabin steward perform with enthusiasm to show off his or her country's culture.
We were in no hurry to get off the ship at Auckland because our B&B would not be ready until 11:00 AM. Holland America was good in that we were allowed to stay in our room until our tickets were called rather than being crowded into lounges awaiting disembarkation.
This was our seventh cruise, the first with Holland America, so we are not newcomers to cruising. This cruise has the best Australian/New Zealand itinerary we could find and it lived up to its billing, but if you are going for the entertainment/cruise experience look for another cruise line.