This was our first cruise with Holland America, which came highly recommended by friends.
We wonder why? Maybe many things have changed.
We were appalled at the constant super-selling of the shore excursions, to the exclusion of any information at all about ports we were visiting. Spencer, the on-board Location Specialist, had obviously been told not to provide any tips at all about places he said he'd been to many times. We couldn't believe that he would not know where the wifi places were, where the hop-on hop-off buses started, or if there were public buses or trains to take us to close sites. It was plainly obvious that he wanted us to take the highly overprices HAL shore excursions. Needless to say, we didn't do any.
More appalling money-extraction happens with the internet. At 75c per minute for a casual rate, it is highly overpriced and the service is painfully slow. You can run through tens of dollars just making a connection. But they won't tell you if the port has free wifi, which generally is the case.
They will not let passengers bring wine on board except as you are embarking, and then only two bottles. Anything after that is charged at $18 corkage to have in the dining room. This actually works out cheaper than the highly inflated prices they list for very ordinary wine, but what a pity not to be able to freely taste some of the delicious Italian and Spanish wine that's available to buy ashore. This policy certainly does nothing for the enjoyment of passengers.
The worst imposition was to charge a so-called Spanish tax of 10% on all drinks for 20 minutes before and 20 minutes after a Spanish port. So sail-away drinks suddenly escalated 10%. No other cruise ship has even done this. Did the money actually get to the impoverished Spanish government?
Communication with staff members was difficult. Spencer and the very new cruise director Marcel constantly mispronounced the name Almeria, but when we complained to the Front Office, they said they'd send them an email that would take 48 hours to deliver. So they never perfected the name.
In the On Location newsletter, they laughingly printed that the roads around Monaco were Cornish. This is British. The roads are Corniche - Upper, Middle and Lower. What an unforgiveable mistake for so-called tour specialists.
Apart from that, the staff in the dining room and room stewards were remarkably friendly and happy and their service was excellent. The dancers and singers, and the HALCats orchestra were top class. The furnishings on the ship were plush and unusual, and there was always a quiet place to sit.
The pool has a retractable roof which is wonderful in cooler weather. But the sunlounges in ankle deep water in what used to be the stern pool were never used. Surely this area could only be popular in the Caribbean? Other passengers who had been cruising since Singapore said it was too hot to use and the tiled sunlounges were too red-hot to sit on. A re-think is necessary for this area.
The food was bland and the activities were mostly aimed at retirement home folk. Knitting and crochet, singalongs, trivia and bingo, but no guest speakers and the only talks about art were at 7pm - cocktail and dinner time.
Formal nights were not enforced and only about 20% were in tuxedos. Time to give this tradition away on HAL and leave it to Cunard, who certainly would not have admitted a man in shorts and a T-shirt into the Crows Nest bar.
So we will not be cruising with HAL again.