I have been on 60 + cruises to include many Holland America. I also did the first half Hong Kong to Singapore on the Volendam last year and this year decided to do the entire 30 days to include 14 days Indonesia.
Without going into great detail suffice it to say the Volendam is a nice size ship and is overall in good repair and well maintained. The Indonesian/Fillipino staff is generally always smiling and provides an exceptional level of gracious service. The food is overall good with plenty of options that should satisfy all but the most picky eaters. The entertainment is mediocre at best although there are a few good shows mixed in with some fairly awful ones.
Rather then dwell on the same things as most other reviews I'd like to highlight a few suggestions as to how Holland could improve the overall cruise experience with little or no expense.
1. Bring back the enrichment programs. In times past cruises nearly always had some author or college professor onboard who would do several interesting lectures on the history of the ports visited. This cruise from Hong Kong had four stops in Vietnam a country and war that had a major impact on most of the older passengers aboard. Yet not a single lecture about the history, the war etc. Naturally there are the usual shore excursion presentations but these are designed to push tours rather than give any interesting insights into the countries visited. We also visited Thailand, Cambodia, Singapore and several Indonesian ports but not a single enrichment lecture was offered. Come on Holland it would cost peanuts to invite some experts onboard to give an educational/enteraining lecture. The microsoft windows 8 and cooking classes get old very quickly. It seems Holland (and most other lines) have forgotten that a cruise is about more than stuffing one's face...it should and could be about also stuffing one's brain with interesting information.
2. Bring local entertainers onboard for shows. Hard to believe but not one single local entertainer or troop came onboard. Holland could EASILY have its port agent contact a local school and invite a troop of kids on to sing/dance/play instruments to highlight their local culture. The shows could be held at 4 pm or so before sailing and I have no doubt they would be a major hit with the passengers. Either a small contribution to the school or even a tour of the ship and let the kids go through the buffet line would likely be greatly appreciated by a lot of very poor kids. Set up a small contribution box at the back of the showroom for any guests who'd like to throw in a few dollars in donations. Why in the world would Holland NOT do this and give back a bit to the poor kids as well as bring some smiles to the faces of the passengers?
3. The daily newsletter is truly AWFUL. I have no idea who writes it but it is BORING and very poorly done. Once upon a time there would be a bio of the entertainers giving you a few paragraphs about who they are, where they are from, etc etc. Now it seems maybe one or two sentences at most.
Not one word about any of the officers or the crew. Imagine if every day there was a small box in the newsletter featuring one of the crew with their picture and a bit about their life, their family, hobbies, etc. It would be a way for passengers to get to know the crew a little better and I suspect it would be a proud day for the crew member featured on a particular day. Certainly a win win for morale and to recognize some of the workers who can make or break a cruise line. It would also be nice to read a bit of bio on the captain or some of the officers.
Once newsletters had daily facts like how many eggs, lbs of shrimp, etc the ship uses daily etc. If the cost of paper is the concern I suspect most passengers would be quite happy to have another page in the newsletter rather than one or two sheets printed on one side pushing yet another art auction or jewelry sale EVERY day.
4. Shore excursions and port information: It is simply inexcusable how little information is provided re port calls. Would it absolutely kill Holland to at least list the exchange rate and a line or two about how far it is to the nearest town and approximately what one could expect to pay in the daily newsletter for each port?
Would it be the end of the world to mention where one might find an ATM or free wifi? In one Indonesian port there were several piers but the taxi drivers weren't sure which pier held the Volendam....and wouldn't you know that the daily newsletter NEVER even tells you where the ship is docked much less MAYBE show the ship location in the local language so one could just show the taxi driver?
While I realize Holland wants to push it's ridiculously priced shore excursions over and over I see passengers who do not want to spend the day riding around on a bus struggle to figure out how to spend a few hours ashore on their own. As for the tours is it really necessary to try to SCARE your passengers into buying tours by harping over and over about how going on your own you might miss the ship or get ripped off blah blah blah. I'd say your odds of getting ripped off are MUCH higher on an overpriced shore excursion purchased from Holland than a local taxi driver.
On this cruise Holland charged 999 usd for a one day car with english speaking driver in Thailand (not including any admissions)....wow....my guess is the car/driver maybe got paid about $100-150 max and Holland pocketed about a 750-800 usd PROFIT. How many businessess get that kind of mark up?
Even a simple ten minute shuttle bus in places like Nah Trang are priced at $12 per person roundtrip. Sounds not bad until you realize you can walk five minutes to the front gate and get a metered taxi to take you for $4 per car.
A few other examples: Holland sells a BUS transfer from the port in Singapore to the airport for $39 per person....OR...you can take a nice a/c metered taxi for $20 usd per CAR and be there quicker and with less hassles. In Halong bay you can buy a boat ride around the bay from Holland for $100+ OR you can walk ten feet from the tender port and take a taxi to the boat landing about five minutes away where you can buy the same boat trip for a whopping $4 usd.....but if you think Holland is going to tell you this you are truly dreaming.....unfortunately a lot of passengers seem to think it's the local tour company in a port that is charging the big bucks...but I would bet that the vast bulk of the money goes to Holland and the local driver gets very little.
The lesson is DO YOUR RESEARCH before you go regarding the ports and what your options may be...otherwise you will be at the mercy of Holland's shore excursion pricing. Naturally Holland realizes that many passengers see a cruise as a once in a lifetime adventure and so they charge accordingly as the "two week millionaires" usually just grin and bear it and then have a small heart attack when they get the bill at the end of the cruise.
5. Port selection and timing: Once again it seems for some unknown reason that the times in various ports are set arbitrarily with little or no regard to common sense. Last year for example we were in Sihanoukville Cambodia on new year's eve. The locals were out in force and were planning serious fireworks on the beach that eventing but of course we sailed away into the darkness at 6 pm and missed the entire show. Never mind that our next port was close by and we literally went out and sailed around in the darkness very slowly to kill time. Is it impossible to just sit offshore and view the fireworks?
In Indonesia the port times were often downright stupid. We spent all day in little ports with NOTHING to do then only a few hours in a few of the larger ports/cities. Why?
As for port selections both Laem Chabang/bangkok and Saigon are both very industrial ports. Bangkok is 1 1/2 hours away and Saigon is almost 3 hours. Both ports are firmly ruled by taxi mafias charging outrageous prices only surpassed by the even more outrageous prices charged by Holland for tours. Holland and other cruise lines could of course threaten to not visit these ports if the local tourism authorities do not clean up the mafia but naturally Holland has no financial reason to care.
Indonesian ports were perhaps the worst set of ports I have ever experienced in over 60 cruises. While MAYBE the idea was to allow the crew to see their families other than that I really don't think 8 ports in Indonesia was anyone's idea of a great itinerary.
6. A few simple suggestions:
How about a camera showing at least the view from the front of the ship that is shown on the in room TV like most cruises? Better yet would be a front and rear camera. The cost to beam these videos into the rooms would likely be close to zero and it's nice for the passengers to be able to get an idea of whats going on outside from their room.
How about more than ONE outdoor BBQ by the LIDO pool? We had one on each half of the cruise and naturally it is well attended and a nice break from the usual Lido and dining room.
How about a ship's clock on the walking deck like most other ships have?
What ever happened to the fresh fruits? We spent a month in southeast asia which is absolultely overflowing with inexpensive tropical fruits like pappaya, mangoes, pineapples, and the like but from what I saw Holland bought NONE of it and instead served the same old watermelon, prunes, etc day after day after day.
So there are a few observations and suggestions from an experienced cruiser. While I suspect that someone at Holland may read some of the reviews I truly wonder if they care. I do understand that they are out to make a profit but many of the items above really involve little or no money outlay but could make a Holland cruise stand out as something exceptional as it once did prior to the Carnival take over. I am sure that there are lots of geeky MBA bean counters sitting in the CCL corporate headquarters figuring how to cut a buck or two here or increase revenues a buck or two there.....but....do they even consider how many passengers may not return for another cruise or tell a less than pleasant tale of their experience to EVERYBODY they know in their home town?
While the above sounds more negative than I would prefer I must say that overall I still prefer Holland to most of the other mass market cruise lines.....BUT....just because you may be better than most does that mean that you don't try and be even better by tweaking a few things?