We were on the same cruise as Tyforu and Barcart who have also written reviews. I have never before posted anything on the internet ever but after the huge rip off and the enormous amount of money that we spent on this cruise I felt compelled to write this review in the hope that it might help other people who are NEW to cruising when they are making the decision to spend such a lot of money on a cruise. Those of you who cruise frequently would no doubt disagree with my comments.
We were on the 28 day Black sea Medley (Oct 2008 2 X 2 week cruises back to back) and had travelled from Australia for the trip.
We wouldn't travel with this line or on this ship again. I am sorry if people are offended and I really hope that no one will mind me expressing myself as we were so deeply disappointed. I genuinely hope that my comments are of help to some people thinking about booking on this ship. People may still decide to go ahead after reading this but at least they will be in a better position to make a more informed decision. We were not privy to this type of information before we booked. I must also admit that I don't have a lot of experience with cruising. I have only done a very short Alaskan cruise with Carnival and another short one around the Pacific Islands with P&O so I can't compare my experience with other cruise lines operating around Europe.
Whilst I note that another person who had been on this very cruise had commented on this web site that they thought that the average age of the clientele was 70, I'm afraid that I can honestly say that it was more like 80.
The ship was packed with sick and old people, some of who appeared to have advanced dementia given that they would wander around, stop at the staircase and stare into the air for long periods of time and not really know where they were. Some would walk straight past their bus on the excursions even though they had a sticker on their shirt with their number on it and there was also a huge color coded number on the front of each bus. We observed a 90 year old man coming from the infirmary who was so sick that he couldn't stand up. People were coughing and spluttering all over the place and many of the older crowd didn't like using the hand sanitizer that was placed in locations all over the ship so it was a waste of time having it. They would sneakily pretend to be using it when they weren't using it at all. They would wave their hand under it and then let the sanitizer drip onto the dish below. I'm so sorry to have to say this given that it may offend people but the ship was a myriad of people getting around on walking sticks, double walking sticks, walking sticks with emergency lighting, walking sticks with flip up seats, walking sticks that were collapsible, crutches, zimmer frames, zimmer frames with baskets, zimmer frames with seats, bandaged limbs, limbs in slings, limbs in casts, wooden legs, wheel chairs and one person actually strapped into a wheel chair under 24 hour care, who basically could not move, eat, talk or function independently at any level without the aid of her career. As sad as we feel and as compassionate as we are for people less fortunate than ourselves, I was a full time worker in a stressful job who had saved my entire salary for 6 months for the cost of the cruise alone, so that I could take my husband and myself away on this worn out, smelly dump of a ship for 28 days. I wanted to get away from work stress and have a pleasant holiday. I know it's terrible to say all this but it was not an environment where you could feel happy and have a really good time when you were surrounded by all that sickness, and mental and physical disability around you. Again, I know that its terrible for me to say this and I know that so many people will disagree and I understand that, but to me, the fact that so many people (not just a few, but 95% of the people on board were in a terrible state made for an upsetting and depressing environment. Bear in mind that I had paid around 40,000 dollars for this holiday (including air fares).
Of course there were advantages to this. You could always get a deck chair because I assume that most of the older crowd were napping in the afternoons.
We felt mislead, as the brochure shows pictures of middle aged, good looking, classy, healthy people when in reality there is no one on the ship like that at all. Even the staff were mostly slovenly in both their attitude and appearance. We felt it was false advertising. Other people on board later confirmed that this particular cruise line is known for specifically catering to the aged, so we feel that Holland America should just let people know that this is their main clientele when they are booking. Why let people think that there will be a mix of people on board and then get so terribly disappointed. I suppose because it doesn't matter to the cruise line, they will already have your money.
It wasn't actually the age of the people that bothered us, there's nothing wrong with conversing and socializing with older people. They have so much experience to tap into. It was more the state that this particular crowd were in. If they were in any sort of fit state, it wouldn't have mattered to us at all what age they were. I realize that credit needs to be given where it's due. These people didn't care how mentally or physically challenged they were, they didn't care how they affected the staff or other passengers, they were going to have their holiday even if they couldn't leave the ship due to the state they were in. We couldn't believe that they even attempt to go on a holiday. I watched (from another bus) while one woman made 9 attempts at getting up the 3 stairs on the bus.
I suppose they have one last chance to spend their money and try to have a good time which is great for them but it came as a shock to us to see all these terribly old and sick people on board.
If there is one thing that you should be aware of, it is that this ship was a floating nursing home for the infirmed and aged.
Other things that were terrible are as follows:
Shore excursions - The prices were an absolute, total rip off for what you got. The cruise ship must make incredible profits. Each full bus would generate 4000-5000 dollars in the cost of the excursions as there are 40 people on board each bus and the tour guide will almost always whine about only being paid a salary of 100 dollars a month etc. so that you feel bad and give them a tip. Well who is getting the 4,000 dollars that each bus carries away with them when you only get to go for an hours drive to some Palace that costs 5 dollars to get into and then drive back to the ship. The ship is in a position to extort you because you either take their tour or you get dumped at a port which is 8 out of 10 times somewhere miles away from anything vaguely interesting. We spent over 4000 dollars extra on shore excursions to see things that we assumed we were going to see as part of the already excessive cost of the cruise. Just be aware of this extra hidden cost before you book. Work out the total cost. Don't assume you are going to see anything at all based on the cost of the cruise. The ship is just transportation to a Port out in the middle of no where. You need to spend more money to see the attractions and sights or indeed anything of interest. Most of the tour guides on the shore excursions will have such a heavy accent that you wont be able to interpret 90% of what they are saying even though they speak English. Some of us kept wishing that they would just shut up altogether which would have been better, and they expect a tip at the end of an excruciatingly painful day having to listen to them on top of it.
Shuttle bus - On the odd occasion where the Port you dock at is close to the town, they don't even shuttle you into the town. You have to pay 11 dollars US per person which is about 45 dollars Australian to get their shuttle for a 7 minute bus ride. In Dubrovnik it took us 45 minutes to walk into the old town but saved us 45 dollars. It's a rip off but again the old and sick people have no choice. They have to pay it and be extorted as they couldn't possibly walk. No one has cash as the currency is not Euros and you don't want to change money for just a few hours so again, the ship has got you.
Food - The food was very, very disappointing. We were amazed at the poor, substandard quality of the food at the Lido and in the Dining room (its basically the same food at both locations). The fruit for the first 2 weeks was rock hard. The vegetables were either rock hard (potatoes)or burnt and withered. Three of our meals had to be sent back, several were actually inedible. The desserts were mostly horrible. We only had one or two nice things on the entire 28 day cruise. We went to the Pinnacle Grill to see what the difference was but some of the items on the menu there were the same as what we'd already been served on other nights had and my husband was sick after eating there as well, and we had paid an extra US$40 for the privilege.
I will have to say that the food is always very well presented (except for breakfast which is slapped onto a plate with no effort by what I thought were dubious looking characters). Although the evening meals were well presented, they tasted like nothing you would eat at home. Basically the food had absolutely no flavor and nothing was fresh. The food was a huge rip off given the price of this cruise. The hot breakfasts were disgusting. But again the older people may not care as much about the standard of food and probably don't complain as much being older and more accepting of things so the ship can get away with it.
I do understand that the ship can't serve high quality meals to hundreds of people every day. They cannot cater for that many people and make the food tasty as well. Its just not possible. So don't get your hopes and expectations up like we did thinking that the food will be something to look forward to. We eat better meals at home every single day.
Drinks - This was another huge rip off. For an Australian the drinks were very expensive and you had to pay a 15 % service charge on top. A bottle of water was US$2.88 which was just over the top. My husband refused to drink on board the ship even though he could have afforded it if he had wanted to drink. He just decided that he wouldn't be ripped off to that extent. Australians would not be used to these types of prices for alcohol.
Tips - It is also expected that you pay US$22 per couple per day as a tip which is expensive give the cost of the cruise. Why don't the Holland America line pay their staff properly in the first place and stop making the tourist pick up the slack. The cruise was quite expensive enough without having this added charge. People should understand that you are not actually tipping the staff when you tip, you are tipping the guy who owns the cruise line because he is not paying the right salaries because you are doing it all for him and he can drive off in his Rolls Royce all on you. What a great con this tipping thing is.
Internet - Another incredible rip off. All of these things were starting to ruin our holiday. US75cents per minute. Even if you think that's OK, you need to know that it will take you 4 times as long to complete one sentence than it would on a normal computer. The service drops out all the time and is so slow that it was costing me US$30 to send a one page email.
Videos - Another rip off. I think it was US$3 per video. We had a balcony room and they gave complimentary videos to balcony rooms, which was lucky because we would not have wanted to pay for them. The videos are all old and the catalogue is disorganized. You don't know what you are choosing because there are no descriptions. You have to choose one, they have to find it for you and then you have to look at the jacket cover, It's a real pain.
Staff in general - The extremely annoying cruise director was married to the cruise sales consultant. The most annoying couple I've ever met. He was compelled to tell you on every dammed occasion when he opened his mouth about how lucky you were to be on the ship, how lucky you were to be getting your bed made each day, how lucky you were to be getting food put on the table for you to eat, how lucky you were to have someone get you a drink, how lucky you were to be getting your bathroom cleaned for you, how lucky you were that there were people at the front desk to answer your enquiries, how lucky you were to be entertained in the show room, how lucky you were to be going to another Port to see the sights, and how lucky you were that you could watch a movie in the theatre........I mean what the hell did he think we were all paying all that money for. Lets face it if someone told you that the cruise was $25,000, but you'd have to find some food somewhere on shore, you wouldn't be getting your bed made, you'd have to clean your bathroom yourself, all entertainment had been cancelled on board, you'd have to phone Nth Dakota if you had any enquiries whilst you were on board and you wouldn't be going on shore to see anything, would you pay money to go on the cruise ??????????........I think not. You wouldn't bother would you......and he seemed to forget that on top of the outrageous cost, there was the whole other tipping ball game to be encountered and paid for as well. He had a hide like an elephants bum..... and as for his wife, if you didn't want to buy another cruise from her when you hadn't even started the one you were currently on, then you were a nobody...... we thought that the both of them were a waste of space. No wonder the cost of the cruise is so high. The place is littered with dozens and dozens of staff members wandering about seemingly doing nothing, and if you wanted help you didn't get it anyway so we couldn't work out why they were all there and why we had to pay for all these "hangers on". As previously mentioned, we didn't think much of the staff. Most of them could only utter two or three words in English which were generally, "good morning", "good evening" and "enjoy your meal", ........which was spoken in a sickly sweet "sing song" voice.....it was so annoying after a week that I really felt like ignoring everyone.
Shore excursions staff - This set of staff warrant a special mention as there were particularly unhelpful and rude to not only us but to a number of people on board. We couldn't understand a word of what the woman who was responsible for delivering the Port and shore excursion information was saying which was a joke given that the information was really important.
On board activities- We were off the ship for all days at Ports and did not engage in any of the on board activities but we knew of some other people who did. They were most disgusted at the cost for every single activity (other than doing a jigsaw puzzle or reading a book). The scrap booking class for example cost money and people walked out when they found out that it wasn't included in the cost of the cruise. It was just another way in which the cruise extracts every cent that they can from you.
Quality of the ship- The ship was basically smelly and moldy. There were some nice public areas. We had a balcony room which was quite acceptable but we could not have stayed on the lower decks because they smelled terrible. The odor of mould and damp was downright unhealthy. Our room was nice and it had been renovated tastefully. The small walk in wardrobe was very good as was the size of the bathroom. However, in terms of the entire ship, it just didn't seem that we got the standard that we had paid for. I acknowledge that if you had an inside room down in the depths of the ship, it was possibly quite good value as those rooms I believe are much, much more inexpensive and might represent good value if you could stand the smell but being in a balcony room or in a suite is overly expensive for what you are getting. Another disappointment was the advertised "King bed". It is two single beds pushed together which is uncomfortable to endure for an entire month as there is a lump or gap in the middle as you would expect with two beds pushed together. It was yet another disappointment as we actually expected one level mattress.
Ports of interest- The Ports were all quite interesting once you had paid the extra US$200-450 dollars per day for the shore excursions although Gabes (Tunisia) was a waste of time. We took the camel ride excursion into the desert in a 4 wheel drive. The 4 wheel drive was a waste of time as we assumed that the reason we were going in a 4 wheel drive was because we would be going off road onto the sand. But it turned out to be a very hot ride on the road with no air conditioning. Take the camel ride that goes by bus with air conditioning if you are doing it. Forget the 4 wheel drive as there is no point to it. It was a pretty lame day really. Cairo - Giza Pyramids, Sphinx and Nile cruise - really good, but an excessive cost to do this tour which represented a bit of a rip off. Jerusalem and the Old city - enjoyable and saw quite a bit. Haifa - Masada Fortress and the Dead Sea. Extremely long day down to the Dead sea and Fortress. Good but the ship should have come into a different Port if they were going to offer this excursion as it was very long day with about 6 hours of driving - ridiculous. I'd think again before taking this particular excursion. But great to swim in the Dead Sea and lunch at the hotel was very good. Antalya - Aqueducts and Colonnades the Roman Ruins of Aspendos and Perge Roman Ruins Aspergos and Perge, were good. Impressed. Lunch was good. Turkey is very nice and we were not expecting it to be as good in Turkey but it was a highlight of the trip getting to go there. Rhodes - The Acropolis of Lindos - Very nice ½ day excursion to Lindos and then explored the old town ourselves. Didn't cost a lot that day so that was good. Inside the walled city is nice and nice to sit and have lunch at a restaurant. Santorini - Profitis Ilias and Oia Village. A bit disappointing as there is not much to see after you have seen the white and blue houses which we did through a ½ day excursion to a village. Valletta - Very nice. Did not take an organized excursion but took a bus to Medina in the morning and then did Valletta in the afternoon. 7 gun salute and brass band to see us off when we left. Very lovely and quite impressed. No extra shore excursion cost for this Port. Messina - Scenic Mt Etna. Rip off. Took the excursion to see Mt Etna but there was not enough time to go up the chair lift and too much time to just stand around looking at Mt Etna. Boring day overall. The ship passed another active volcano that evening which was free and much better than seeing Mt Etna! Rome. Rip off as we had to pay US$180 for the 1 hour bus trip into Rome offered as an excursion. RIP OFF, RIP OFF, RIP OFF. The biggest rip off excursion offered by the ship but again you had no choice as you could not risk not getting back to the ship on time. Dubrovnik - Great, easy 45 minute walk into the old town, no cost and a nice day out looking inside the walled city. Not all that much to do. Killed it in about 4 hours. Back at the ship after lunch. Sarande - Archeological Albania - Took the excursion to Butrint. Nice guide and nice day out. Argostoli - Melissani Lake and Drogarati Cave. Not much there but some nice scenery on the excursion to the Lakes and caves to see the stalagmites and stalagtites. Istanbul- The Best of Istanbul. Took the excursion to see the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia, Topaki Palace and Grand Bazaar but you could have done all this on your own as the ship docked very close to the city and it was easy to get around. (pay extra and go to the Harem in the Palace as it was quite good). We enjoyed the excursion into Istanbul. Trabzon- Trabzon Highlights. Not much there but took an excursion to a mosque and around a village. It was OK but not that good. Sochi- Stalins Summer Home. A good excursion. Interesting and relaxing. You see some of the area and the home with its furniture and contents. Sevastopol - A day in the Crimean Riviera. Went to a couple of Palaces, the names escape me but it was quite good also. Nessbur- A visit to a Bulgarian village. Took excursion to a village and into a home in the village and the Town Hall. Quite a pleasant day Kusadasi The Best of Ephesus- Very nice day out to see various sights and the Virgin Marys house etc.
Entertainment - Personally, we thought that this was the only saving grace. The entertainment was fantastic. I note that some people did not like the comedian (posted by another guest for this cruise on this website). I know that everyone has personal tastes in comedy but overall I though the entertainment did not let us down. The singers, dancers, comedians, musicians, magician were all really, really good. We couldn't fault that aspect of the cruise at all. We have seen lots of shows in London, Sydney and Las Vegas and so we felt that we had some background experience to reflect on and given that we were out in the middle of nowhere on a ship we thought that all forms of the entertainment were very well done. Of course the Cruise director didn't let you forget "how lucky you were" to be getting this standard of entertainment but even that clown didn't spoil the entertainment for us.