My wife and I have just completed a 14-day Alaska cruise with Holland America on the MS Oosterdam. It was such an incredibly disappointing experience on all fronts that I feel that I must share my experience with other cruisers considering sailing with Holland America. I apologize for the length of this review, but it is necessary.
ACCESS FOR THE MOBILITY IMPAIRED - Like most cruise lines, Holland America only supplies wheelchair assistance for embarkation and disembarkation. The thing that sets Holland America and this cruise apart was the fact that I had to WALK several hundred yards from the bus/taxi drop off point to the office where you could request a wheelchair. While I was getting mine, a porter told the Holland America representative that a lady was sitting on the curb at the drop off point since she was unable to walk to the office. The HA rep was visibly annoyed and said that the woman would have to come to the office to get a wheelchair. Unbelievable! I do not know how the problem was resolved. There was a similar problem with disembarkation. We were told to report to one place on the ship if we needed a wheelchair. When none came, I managed to attract the attention of a HA rep and asked where the wheelchairs were. He appeared to be annoyed and told me “didn’t you hear the announcement?” You have to WALK to another area of the ship to claim your wheelchair for disembarkation.
FOOD - This food on the trip, with a couple of exceptions, was very disappointing. The descriptions of the food made it sound fabulous, but they didn’t reflect reality. The food was not as described and was obviously “altered” to save money for HA. For example: “waldorf salad” consisted of apples and a little bit of celery (no grapes, no walnuts); a slice of fruit pie had two small pieces of fruit in it, the rest of the filling was thinned out fruit? liquid with a ton of cornstarch in it to make a gelatinous solid; “New York style cheesecake” looked like cheesecake, but was a concoction whipped up with air obviously to save money on ingredients; “baked Alaska” was just a small scoop of ice cream. Most of the main courses were of poor quality the worst being the fish, which was obviously frozen and was always dry and overcooked. After my second fish dish, I learned not to order that again. Unlike on our cruise earlier this year on the Emerald Princess, I never looked forward to dining on the Oosterdam.
Worthy of special mention is the food on Lido buffet. I can only compare it to the worst of the chain cafeterias. For breakfast, the eggs were good (custom prepared), but that’s about it. The bacon was bordering on being raw, the waffles and pancakes were cold and like rubber, the “toast” was usually never toasted and was just awful and rubbery. They served you mini-portions (to save money). If you ordered an omelet, they would put about a teaspoon of fillings in it. I was in line next to a teenage boy (you know how they eat). He asked for pancakes and was given two, each about 3 inches in diameter. He was too intimidated to ask for more. While you can get by with breakfast and lunch (you can get a salad) on the Lido, don’t even think of eating dinner there. Enough said except to state that, as the cruise wore on, they were running out of food and the food became poorer by the day.
FOOD SERVICE - Food service was terribly slow and inefficient. Either the waiters were on some kind of “work slowdown” or HA was understaffed. Can you imagine it taking an hour to have bacon and eggs!
The hours of food service were very short (I’m sure they wanted to push you to eating at the Lido) and even the Lido had limited hours and was shut down by 10:30 at night (you couldn’t even get a cup of coffee after that except from room service). Our last cruise (3 months ago) was on the Emerald princess and they had the “International Café” which was staffed by a couple of people 24 hours a day. If you couldn’t sleep at night, you could go there and get a cup of coffee and read without disturbing your cabin mate. There was no such option on the Oosterdam. You would think that a ship with 2,000 passengers could afford to provide this service.
Room service was, I believe, intentionally slow, in order to train you not to use it. It typically took the best part of an hour to get some coffee (or anything else) by which time you no longer wanted it.
THE PASSENGER COMES SECOND - You would think that, at a minimum you should be able to enjoy the comfort of your room (we had a balcony). We returned back from breakfast one day to find that the balcony railing had been varnished. I have a lung condition and could not breath. We had to leave our stateroom for the day until the stench died down. Nobody ever bothered to ask us before doing this. Another day, we were told that they would be coming into our stateroom (at a time that we would normally be in bed) to hose down the veranda. It seems to me that whether it is ship maintenance or food service hours, or anything else, no consideration is given to the passenger.
SALES PITCHES AD NAUSEUM - Being on this HA cruise was like being locked up with a bunch of high-pressure salesmen. The vast majority of activities on the ship either cost money or were sales pitches to make you spend money. Two weeks of this becomes very tedious and annoying
ROOM STEWARD - The one bright spot on this cruise. Our steward was outstanding. As an example, the first day of the cruise I asked for ice so I could make myself a drink in my cabin. Thereafter, there was always fresh ice in my room without me asking.
OTHER THOUGHTS - We took a 14-day cruise (Vancouver to Seward and back). HA should treat it as a 14-day cruise and not two seven-day cruises. Not only did we visit the same ports coming and going (we expected that), but also we were subjected to the same entertainment and same never-ending sales pitches.
HA is way too cheap when it comes to making the passengers feel good. Princess had small token gifts and at least recognized it when you had a special occasion such as an anniversary. There was a wonderful lady on our cruise that was celebrating her 100th BIRTHDAY!!!! WOW! Guess what HA did to help her celebrate that great moment, NOTHING!!!
I don’t know if HA is dishonest, or just doesn’t care about its customers. We had paid for an excursion and the HA staff directed us to the wrong bus and we missed our tour. I spoke to a HA representative the day we left the ship to get a refund and was given a business card and told to contact customer service. Customer service did not answer their phone (I was on hold a half hour) and they have failed to respond to an e-mail that I sent them regarding this matter.
We are retired and will be cruising 3 to 4 times a year, but as I said earlier, NEVER NEVER again on Holland America.