Well, I will start with Embarkation. This was the most disorganized embarkation we have ever experienced with any cruise line. This ship had less than 800 passengers and it took us 3 times longer to get onto than many of the 3000+ liners we have cruised on. No rhyme or reason for issuing boarding numbers. We were on board about 1:00.
Our cruise card stating that we were assigned anytime dining after we were assured by the Holland America rep 6 months before that we would have the early seating we requested the 9 months before that. Even though my documents reaffirmed the early seating, they were trumped by our cruise card. So the hassle with the powers that be ensued. I won but really wondered later if it was worth the battle. Later on that.
We had the prized 197 room with the big glass wall. It was really beautiful and there was a ton of storage. We had only one problem, the bathroom had a very strong odor of urine. I washed it down with the Clorox wipes I had brought and when that didn't work I brought it to the attention of our cabin steward and he made some extra effort wiping it down. To no avail. I think the odor may have been coming from the drain in the floor, who knows. I bought air freshener at the first opportunity on shore. I loved the location of the room, it was perfect and just lovely. That room and the friends we had made on Cruise Critic in advance were really the highlight of our trip.
The food and the service in the dining room was not great. We were put at a table with 2 other delightful couples that were veteran Holland America cruisers and by the 2nd night we realized that our dining was not going to be the highlight of this cruise. The food was not exciting, not bad, but not exceptional. I can identify two items that were to die for- the short-ribs and a crab dip served as a appetizer. The rest was not really up to the standards you expect of a premium cruise line. By the end of the first week the 6 of us came to the conclusion that if we had to identify our servers from a lineup we would not be able to. That is how impersonal the service was. Thank God no one at our table was picky, because it was not happening. No one to ask if you required pepper, or to brush the crumbs off before dessert etc., etc., Those things that usually come with eating at a fine restaurant. To think I wasted my time convincing them that we wanted traditional dining so we could experience the same waiters etc. A joke!
The ports were fine but the tours arranged by Holland were EXPENSIVE. We spent over $1600 on tours and in three ports a bunch of us got together and did our own.
One of the ship's tours to Caldey Island about killed me. These were rated as not extra strenuous but we had to walk about 2 miles, up hill, through sand and climb up out of a rocking boat onto stone steps without a hand rail. I and about 8 other senior citizens had to crawl up the steps to get to a wall to hang on to something so that we did not fall into the ocean. By the time I got to the top my artificial knee and the knee I need to have replaced were knocking together. Never again! This is not like this is my first cruise and my first tour. We have been on dozens of tours and have never experienced anything like this. Beware! They really need to have someone take a look at the ratings of these tours. I can walk, but I am not a triathlon athlete.
The ship itself is lovely, the library with the fireplace and the Explorers Lounge with the espresso bar was great. I never went by without a cup of cappuccino. I think my biggest concern was that there was a lot of illness on the ship and I don't think they promoted the use of Purell and spent enough time wiping down the public places such as rails and elevator buttons. We have been on ships where you did not get a tray without washing your hands with Purell first. There were Purell dispensers all over but I don't think I ever saw anyone wipe any of the surfaces down.
I think, in conclusion, Holland America is succumbing to the "Carnivalization" that has taken place at Princess. It has a whole lot to do with the bottom line but I think a whole lot of bad management. We were disappointed but we will live to cruise again, just maybe not with Holland America. We are really going to look at other options. Again thanks to the Cruise Critic members that made this cruise memorable. We will hold you close in our hearts.