Holland America does their Sea of Cortez Cruise once a year. Some of the service and quality issues could have been related to the fact that some of the ports were new or only visited once a year. Other service issues are more basic.
The ship arrived in San Diego from the prior cruise "code red" and had to be disinfected before we boarded. No self-service was permitted for the first week of the cruise, which increased the wait times at the buffet. All of the self-service guest laundries were closed until the "no touching" rule was lifted as was access to the books in the library and some other facilities. We didn't fault Holland America for this and were very pleased that we did not get sick and that the restrictions were lifted prior to the end of the cruise.
The big issue for us was the temperature control in our main deck, ocean view stateroom. The first two nights when we were cruising south from San Diego in the Pacific, our cabin was so cold I had trouble sleeping. Then the cabin gradually warmed until in Puerto Vallarta it became unbearably hot. It took numerous phone calls and visits to the office over several days to get the problem fixed. On our second day in Puerto Vallarta after we had been complaining for two nights, we left for an excursion prior to 8 AM and returned at 3:30 PM to find the cabin sweltering. The cabin steward had the dark curtains open and the sun was baking the room. After much complaining (and nearly camping at the office), we got a fan and an explanation that the valve had been fixed, but that the air flow was slow so that it would take time to cool the room -- as in another day and half!!! During one of my "campouts" at the office another guest told me he was having the same problem with his cabin -- much too cold at the start of the cruise and sweltering in Puerto Vallarta. By coincidence his cabin was 634 and ours was 534. If the ventilation system is so feeble, the cabin stewards should be instructed to close the curtains when they clean the cabins in hot ports. Passengers should be advised to keep the curtains pulled when they are not in the cabin. In all we had 5 nights, when the temperature in the cabin resulted in very poor sleep quality. Holland America's response was a $100 ship credit (or $10/person per bad night of sleep -- low compensation for being sleep deprived for such a large fraction of the cruise).
We also had issues with the responses to two other requests:
1. The "Highlights of La Paz" -- four hours at $69.95 per person had a good guide, but we were told when we were about to depart on the bus (and there was no chance to switch to another excursion) that the museum we were to visit was unavailable, because of construction. The substitutions, which the guide claimed were equivalent were of very poor quality and in one case we had to return later, because the person had not shown up with the key. The "relax on the beach under a palapa and enjoy a soft drink" meant wait in line as three large bus loads stood in line to be individually served at a counter with those getting the included (essentially tequila-less) margaritas made with a home-sized blender. We stood for a long time, because we were near the back of the third bus. When we got back to the ship, I explained to the lady at the excursion desk that the guide did the best he could, but it was a huge stretch to call the excursion "highlights". The excursion desk lady took extensive notes and told me that her boss would get back with us. That evening just before dinner we got a call from a woman, who identified herself as the head of the excursion office. I again explained our issues with the quality of the excursion. She said that she had to speak to some other customers, but would get back with us the next day about an "adjustment." When there had been no follow-up for 36 hours, I complained. When the head of excursions finally called me back, she claimed that she was not the one who had spoken with me. Ultimately, the full cost of the excursion was refunded.
2. We dined at the Pinnacle Grill and were not informed that we could get a package if we dined at both the Pinnacle Grill and the Italian restaurant. Before making reservations for the Italian restaurant, we asked if we could get the discount retroactively. After several follow-up calls, because no one ever got back to us, we were told that we could get the package retroactively and we made reservations for the Italian restaurant and ate there. When we got our ship bill at the end of the cruise the credit had not been made and we had to go round-and-round again to get it.
The quality and cost of the excursions was very uneven. In the less visited ports, what you got for your money was far less than in the main tourist ports of Cabo San Lucas and Puerto Vallarta. The two Vallarta Adventures excursions we took in Puerto Vallarta were the highlight of the cruise. The "Whale Photo Safari" was incredible -- and I thought I had seen spectacular humpback whales in Antarctica. During the 3 1/2 hours we saw a tremendous amount of whale activity including two separate encounters with a group of males cavorting with a female, who was leaping out of the water and banging her pectoral fin on the surface. In the second encounter, the female had a year old calf, who was imitating her, while the males chased behind jockeying for position. The next day we took the 7 hour Colonial San Sebastian tour. The guide was fantastic talking nearly non-stop the whole way up the mountains. He made the history hilarious and memorable. San Sebastian itself is a beautiful village with a fascinating history. Both of those tours were $99.95 each. In Cabo San Lucas, we took the "Deluxe Coastal Cruise", 2 hours with open bar for $69.95. We were an early group to board the coastal cruise boat and enjoyed our time at the dock watching the sea lions jump on the back of the fishing boats to beg for fish scraps. The cruise was good and the margaritas kept coming and were strong. They also served very good salsa and chips. The "Loreto on Foot" 1 1/2 hours for $35.95 was also enjoyable. The guide showed us a place where we could get the local specialty of chocolate clams. We went back for lunch and had wonderful food, hot off the grill including a beer or a nice glass of wine for $15 each instead of the "Mexican Fiesta and Traditional Clambake" for $79.95 each.
We had been looking forward to going to Topolobampo and taking the Copper Canyon by Train excursion for $425 each, but about two weeks before we were to leave, we received an email that the port was canceled. Our travel agent when she inquired was told it was because of "operational issues." On board we were told it was because of "security issues." Mazatlan was substituted. Holland America was the first cruise ship company to return to Mazatlan after a corpse was thrown in front of a tour bus in 2010. Our ship was the second of two Holland America ships to dock in Mazatlan in about the span of a week. Prior to the 2010 incident, about 5 ships a week docked in Mazatlan. One wonders if the incentives to return to Mazatlan or the issues at Topolobampo were the real reason for the substitution.