We were really looking forward to our cruise with Holland America. We have gone on 4 other cruise lines but heard that Holland America was one of the best, with an older crowd but more traditional cruising which we like. It was me and my husband and our 6 children ranging in ages 3 yrs to 19 yrs. Getting on the ship was very easy, however no one was there to say "welcome aboard" or to help point us in the right direction of our cabin. Our cabin was an inside stateroom that seemed larger than the other ships we have been on. It needs to be updated since the furniture was looking very worn.
The breakfasts and lunches at the Lido deck buffet were wonderful. The food was delicious and the staff very helpful. It was a tight squeeze along the main walkway there since there were tables along the way, those should be removed. The main dinning room staff was wonderful and very helpful, seemed like they really enjoyed the children and they made the kids paper animals and such. The French fries and burgers poolside were great, some of the best we've had, the poolside pizza wasn't as good, but who can compare to Princess's pizza? The evening shows were one step up from high school productions, the magician was terrible and the shows lacked creativity. Recycled Percussion was the only show that was good the entire week. I have to mention that the crew put on a show for the guests late one night and it was really nice, the "professional" performers need to take some pointers from the crew. We really appreciated the crew taking the time to do this.
We do not send our children to the onboard daycare activities, we stick together since we're on a family vacation, so I can't say anything about those programs since we don't ever use them. We had a lot of trouble booking shore excursions since we had children with us. Holland America says it welcomes families but they make it very difficult for the children to participate in anything other than the daycare. I tried booking the sting ray tour in Grand Cayman, they wouldn't accept children under 8 years old due to safety reasons, but they would book the kids on the swim with dolphins/sting ray tour which was double the money. I've never heard of little children swimming with dolphins, we've checked into it at several locations and dolphin swims always have age restrictions, what happened to safety? Holland America charged full price for children on the fury catamaran in Cozumel even though the fury catamaran company charged half price if you booked with them directly(you can only book directly if you're not on a cruise).Finally at the shore excursion desk they are passing out brochures for trolley tours in Key West, which say under 12 ride free, but Holland America charges full price for all children, even lap sitters. If Holland America isn't trying to exclude children from shore excursions then they are trying to make a buck off the kids. I don't have a problem paying for the kids participating or the ones taking up a seat, I don't think a 3 yr old is going to be drinking much beer on the catamaran. I booked through Moby Dick tours on Grand Cayman and they were the BEST. The kids aren't allowed in the aft pool, but that's where all the games and what little music they had was. So if the kids wanted to swim, you had to choose. The midship pool had a moveable roof that took up a lot of deck space and they kept it closed on our sea day, so once again, if we wanted to swim with kids it was like swimming indoors at a nice hotel instead of on a cruise ship. The passengers were left jockeying for the 7 spots in the sun while the roof was closed, they claimed it would be windy if it was open, I think that's part of being on a ship at sea, right? Finally after several requests they did open the roof all the way, if they didn't that day would have been ruined. I didn't pay for a Caribbean cruise to sit inside all day! The pool side staff was very slow to remove any dirty dishes. You couldn't hear any announcements if you were at the midship pool either. Surrounding the midship pool were cabanas that you had to rent for the day, so those took up a lot of deck space.
The staff wasn't pushy about drink cards, buying drinks or specialty coffees which was very nice. They had the best iced tea, freshly squeezed orange juice and the coffee was decent. The cruise director, Eric, was really funny but unfortunately the only times we saw him was to introduce the shows. He needed to be out at the pools during the day. I know Holland America has an older clientele but they seemed really bored at the pool all day. We were the entertainment it seemed like(our children are very well behaved and we had many compliments about that). I think having a few poolside games wouldn't be a bad idea or just put some music on the speakers if they're trying to save money with no band at the pools. They did have a Catholic priest onboard and it was such a blessing to have daily mass along with Sunday 5:00 mass and Saturday vigil mass. The anytime dinning reservation crew was not nice, they made it difficult to make reservations. The gift shop did not sell any children's tshirts, they said they had them out for 1 day at the beginning of the cruise and that's all. They didn't offer much for at sea sales like other cruise lines do. I thought the shop was very over priced (even for a ship)and had little to offer. We usually all get tshirts from the ship, this time none of us did. The shore excursion desk was not too helpful and they could care less about us. (maybe because we had kids?) You would think that they'd want the business from 8 people. We really enjoyed the ship size and passenger capacity but the layout of the ship was not good. It was very closed in, not many open spaces. There must have been something wrong with the engines or propellers because there was a lot more vibration on this ship which could be very bothersome in the dinning room. Overall, we were disappointed with Holland America and we probably won't sail with them again. There were the good points that I mentioned above but we had too many negatives on this cruise to go with them again.