I have been on many cruise lines and many ships in the last 20 years. And when the cruise was complete I had a clear opinion of the cruise and how I would rate it. But this short cruise on Holland America, my first on the line, leaves me confused.
Let me start with the positive because the new Eurodam does have many attractive features. It is by and large a very beautiful ship that has been well thought out, although a little too brightly lit for my taste. The art work is varied, engaging and attractive and the old photos of ships from bygone days that line the hallways are worth touring. The cabins are wonderfully spacious with great closet space and storage, exceptionally comfortable beds and most come with very generous sized verandas. There are two wonderful pools, one the center of activity, where socializing with new found friends is what the ship designers had in mind as the perfect way to pass the time while the aft pool is made for gazing off at the horizon or restful poolside nap after one's eyes tire from reading too long in the sun. And for an even more private outdoor rest, there is the "Retreat" on deck 11, replete with private cabanas and a staff of two whose only job is to make you comfortable throughout the day, be it to bring you cool drinks, fresh fruit, a wonderful lunch or even to provide you with an Evian water spray to keep your face moist. And as the Retreat is adjacent to the Explorations Cafe there's an extra bonus; easy access to a wonderful windowed indoor space to take a sun break and read the NY Times on line for free or to pick up a board game or deck of cards to play again in the sun. While everyone else piled off the ship to the line's private beach resort, I had a phenomenal day up top that I and my companion will remember for years to come.
And when it's time to return to the ship or come out of the sun, there are innovative dining opportunities both at lunch and dinner, a wonderful spa with very reasonable prices and a very knowledgeable staff, great gym facilities and first run movies playing from noon to midnight in a wonderful theater with large reclining chairs and free popcorn. At night, the numerous public venues never leave one wanting for diversion. The space on deck 2 is arranged in such a way that you feel like you are in the middle of a great big party in some wonderful hip urban center with everything from a big show, a lounge act or a sing along in the piano bar; but when it becomes too much you can ride the outside ocean view lift to deck 11 to be alone with someone special in a quiet corner sipping cocktails in the Silk Den or Crow's Nest while a piano plays and the moon and stars sparkle just for the two of you. And for those lucky enough to book a deluxe suite or penthouse, there is even a not so well known yet very well-serviced first class lounge (the Neptune Lounge on deck 7 accessible only with a suite or penthouse key). The lounge provides superb snacks from sunrise until the second seating for dinner and is staffed with a personal concierge who is there to handle ones every whim or issue. And even better, they succeed most of the time! But what of the times they don't succeed or what about the majority of patrons that do not have a concierge.
For those times and for all those passengers I come to my biggest criticism of my cruise . . . the inability to listen when they fail to meet expectations or where they simply fail to meet reasonable standards. In fact the failure is so great as to be almost abusive and the "home office" should investigate and if necessary make a clean sweep of the hotel management staff. Never have I seen a less caring attitude among senior staff management toward guests. Never have I seen more abusive treatment by ship officers of junior staff members in front of guests. It was cruel and it turned my stomach.
You see what I am reporting on were not my issues. I was having a wonderful time and I know what to expect and not expect on a large ship cruise. That's not to say I don't have negatives to report. But I like to take the negatives in stride and never let them overwhelm me and destroy an otherwise good time. And a very good time I had indeed. But not everyone is constructed like me and most people, including myself, want to feel they are listened to and understood when a problem arises. Yet on the Eurodam, I witnessed senior hotel staff take what easily could be such a wonderful overall experience and trash part of it out of laziness, ruin what remained out of apathy and squash passengers and crew alike out of arrogance. Why were they behaving this way was a question that kept recurring. Were they in fact fatigued, had management understaffed the ship or not given officers an adequate break since the ship was launched. In short were they being overworked by Carnival management?
And again I remind you that I say all this mostly from observing other guests and lending an ear to those who wanted to vent. My only real problems were a backed up toilet on the first morning (which took 5 hours to remedy), a lousy meal in the Pinnacle Grill on my last night, about which the very haughty maître d' did not care, and incredibly bad room service. None of these would I allow to ruin my cruise but let me share them to give you an idea of what you might find on board the Eurodam. The first issue was merely inconvenient (having to go up two decks to the lido in order to use a toilet) while the second and third issues are harsh reminders that Holland America can at times be a very pedestrian mass market experience. My supposed gourmet meal served in the Pinnacle Grill included scalloped potatoes that were in fact mass produced Stouffer's styled frozen dinner side dish, the Caesar salad prepared "tableside" was created by pouring "Newman's Own" bottled dressing and mass produced Nabisco croutons over romaine and stirring with a salad tong and the three flavored "crème brûlée " dessert was nothing more than flavored Jello-brand instant pudding that had sugar poured on top which was caramelized under a broiler for 30 seconds. It's not nice to be played for a dweeb or idiot gourmet.
But one need not despair about going hungry for as bad as the Pinnacle Grill is, the main dining room serves very decent food in fact dare I say better food, the Lido serves unlimited well prepared but bland food while one finds great gourmet salvation by dining at Tamarind because this restaurant does in fact serve some of the finest food I have ever had on any ship anywhere, with excellent service to match. And if you are still hungry after a good or bad meal, which in some venues is quite understandable, there is always 24 hour room disservice, where the wait is long and the hot food is brought cold. Notice I say "brought" not "served", for if it were served then the waiter would not simply dump a tray on your coffee table and do a quick about face and leave. Do I expect too much? Well if I do, then at the very least the waiter should check the order to make sure it is what I ordered (they got one breakfast completely wrong) and that there is sugar for the coffee (both times there was none) and so on and so forth.
But this is not the waiter's fault, because every waiter behaved exactly the same and therefore the problem is entirely rooted in detachment from true service handed down from senior staff. And when a guest became upset about something no one seemed interested in listening and this left me completely flabbergasted and other guests downright angry. And it is so ridiculous that this is even an issue because it all comes down to a willingness to listen. What I am discussing is not a failure of the service staff but the complete insulation of senior management from both staff and guests. Guests are not listened to and staff is not properly trained despite an obvious attempt on their part to play their part and service the guest.
At one point I asked if it were possible to at least fill out a comment card that they could read later since they all seemed otherwise engaged at the moment. Well, dear reader, my jaw dropped open when I was told with a completely straight face, "we don't solicit the comments of our guests on short cruises" In reply I asked "what are you guys afraid of? You have an opportunity with all the travel agents on board to get voices of experience critiquing this cruise and gaining valuable insights and instead your response is 'everyone go to bed' '. Don't you want to know that your spa changing rooms are gorgeous with but contain not a single amenity such as combs, shaving cream or even soap and are so poorly serviced that the towels and robes lay everywhere awaiting a long absent attendant? Don't you want to know that despite this shortcoming how much I love the Spa staff and the waiters in Tamarind and together how much they made for a wonderful cruise experience? Don't you want to know that the staff of older men and ladies in the terminal in Ft. Lauderdale is phenomenal (the nicest of any cruise line) and were extremely efficient in processing embarkation and so sincere when saying goodbye on the last day? In short why are you so afraid of listening and learning?
And so I close this review with having great difficulty in making the ratings. Had they addressed my issues simply by listening, a five in most categories would not be difficult to give. But under the circumstances . . . less is more; meaning grading lower now is done in hopes of them listening and doing more in the future. For the bottom line is cruise lines are not just in the tourism industry they are in the service industry; and to serve requires one to listen. And to allow for communications to be delivered is the best path for avoiding upset
Will I return to cruise on HAL? That depends if anyone ever contacts me from their management team. And if they do I will be sure to let you all know.