We are regular cruisers have taken over 20+ in the last 10 years, primarily on Crystal,Princess,RCCl, Cunard,this was our second cruise on Holland America haven taken the same cruise ex Sydney in 2006 on the the same ship MS Statendam to Hong Kong. It was interesting to see the difference one year can make.
Embarkation Date 03/02/07 Sydney.
Living in Sydney, we only have a 25 minute ride to the Overseas Passenger Terminal at Circular Quay, arriving at 2pm there were long lines waiting to embark, even though embarkation had started at 11am. We had thought we had pre registered for embarkation but it did not seem to help. Major problem for all was a Visa for the Indonesian ports of Bali and Semarang. Local and ships staff insisted you needed to sign a ships voucher for US$50 each before they would let you board the ship, so the ship could obtain the visa for you. (even if you did not want to get of the ship in those ports they insisted you needed one).Unfortunately for the ships staff and shore staff, most of the passengers who were American with a fair amount of Australians and who had already spent a large amount money to take this cruise had done their homework and knew that you could get a VOA (Visa on Arrival in Bali for 3 days validity for US$10 which would cover the port visits in question. Most people had obtained this information from the Internet or from their local Indonesian Consulate or Embassy. (The VOA law was brought into force in June 2006). All people had to sign as stated earlier for a visa to be provided by the ship, if they wanted to board the ship, so in the end it took two hours to board. This was not the end of it, with the ships front office being besieged for the next two to three days by passengers making a complaint. It even got to stage of the ships Captain Peter Bos on the second day giving his 12pm daily report over the ships PA system, raising the subject, and stating why were the passengers complaining about the $50 visa cost when they had spent so much money on the cruise.. It did not finish there on the third day each cabin on board received a letter signed by the Onboard Customer Relations Manager stating that the Visa Fee for Indonesia would now be charged to your account at US$10 each plus a US$5 Holland America Administration Fee. Score: Passengers 1 Holland America 0. It begs the question of course as why the ships staff or the Holland America in Seattle staff were so incompetent, if a a majority of the passengers can find the cost of a Visa so easily why cannot they. What it did was to make the Captain look stupid in making his comments, though I am sure he would only be acting on information provided to him.It created a considerable amount of unnecessary bad feeling toward the ships company. I have never seen so many upset passengers at one time. Someone had just not done their job. Unfortunately this was not the end of the ships troubles on this voyage with it getting worse rather than better for a large number of passengers as the voyage progressed , myself included.
We booked HH guaranteed and were upgraded to DD Grade,thank you Holland America Line. Cabin 403 is on the Lower Promenade Deck towards the stern of the ship, a good location, with a large clear window and easy access to the promenade deck, our friends who travelled with us were 3 cabins along from us. The cabins are well laid out and well maintained, if a little tired, but the cabin steward did his job in a exemplary manner. The trouble arose however after the second port of call in the Whitsundays Islands (Barrier Reef) when the ships Air Conditioning System developed a major fault. To put this in perspective this is a Tropical Cruise where the day time temperatures are rarely below 90F to 100F and the night time temperatures rarely go below 80F at this time of the year. Normally your cabin temperature is set at around 68F to 72F so you can get some respite when you return from outdoors and visits onshore. Unfortunately for us the day/night time temperature rarely went below 80F in the Cabin from the Whitsundays to Nah Trang in Vietnam a period of 14 days of the 20 day cruise. It would seem either one or two of the major Air Conditioning units developed problems, even though the ships engineers worked for long hours and even flew in specialist engineers to join the ship in Darwin they did not seem to be able to solve the problem. Not all parts of the ship were badly effected with most of the Public Areas having no noticeable change. however a large number of cabins were. I would wake up in the middle of the night most nights soaking wet from perspiration and take my pillow and find a comfortable seat or lounge in the Crows Nest (best) of Library and grab a few hours sleep in a cool area, not the best way to spend a holiday.Even though I made daily entreaties to the front desk to try and improve the conditions in the Cabin there was little they could do, apart from sending someone to take the temperature again.The ship was full up and there were no spare cabins to move you too. Some people even left the cruise in Singapore because they could take it no longer. Conditions improved on the last two days from Nha Trang to Hong Kong when the outside temperature dropped to below 80F. On the last day before Hong Kong the front office sent a letter saying we had been given a credit of US$245 each to be credited to our shipboard account. Not much recompense for a fortnight of no sleep. I have asked my travel agent to follow up but I don,t suppose they will do any good.
Again he ships problems did not stop there, from Semerang onwards the ship was beset with a GI Virus (Gastro Intestinal). The number of passengers and crew affected (and isolated) were not publicized by the ship , how ever a conservative estimate would probably in the region of 20/30 persons. The ship put into force procedures to combat the virus and these remained in force until we disembarked in Hong Kong, which made obtaining food and beverage very tedious and time consuming. It was surprising for myself having lived and worked in SE Asia for nearly 40 years to find that in Semarang in Central Java Indonesia that over 500/700 ships crews families (wifes,kids) were allowed onboard and allowed to roam through all the public areas, great for the crew to show their workplace to their families, not to good for the passengers who had paid out large dollars to take the cruise and had to suffer the consequences. Maybe the outbreak of GI Virus after Semerang was just coincidental if so I apologize and do mean to be disrespectful.
To the good things.
The food on board was excellent particularly in the Rotterdam Dining Room a good selection each meal delivered in a professional manner, Some could be a little bland but the Prime Rib and Turbot (Fish) were as good as you could get anywhere. The Lido breakfast and lunch were very typical Bistro quality with some good special lunches.It would help if the Chef in charge could teach his cooks how to fry 2 eggs over easy without burning them or breaking the eggs and how to make a omelette, neither is that hard to learn.The Wine list was average with some prices for very mediocre quality USA wines which sell for $5 to $10 onshore going for $40 to $50, a bit over the top, there were however some sleepers in particularly the French wines which were exceptional value in some cases.
The quality of the shows was much better that last year, the singers and dancers were very good and some of the solo artists worth a second visit. My wife had a great time in participating in the onboard activities, however banal and silly she said some were. The Library was great one of the best I have encountered anywhere on board a ship, a really good selection of books and a great Librarian, a very comfortable place to relax and read and catch up on a little sleep in my case.
Not the best cruise this time, most of the problems encountered, could be easily resolved by Holland America Line. The onboard Hotel Department needs to get its act together,its onboard customer service needs to learn what customer service means, there is no need to antagonize the passengers, or put your Captain in an invidious position. The information that the ship provided about ports of call was very often incorrect particularly about transportation costs. For Semarang they advised the cost of a Taxi was US35 per hour with a minimum 3 hours. Actual cost US30 for 3 hours. Singapore Ships Terminal to City (Orchard Road) US25. Actual cost US$5. (Singapore Dollars$8.) Simple things but easily found out from their local agents. Some very short stays in ports of call , example less than 6 hours in Singapore. The Cruise Director you did not see only hear over the PA System (Great speaking voice) Some staff particularly in the Lido (those that are serving passengers) need to learn a little English, particularly as most of their passengers are English speaking and do not speak Bahasa (Indonesian). I will certainly travel again on the Statendam, I only hope it will be a better cruise.