SERVICE LEVELS VERY LOW, INCONSISTENT and WAY BELOW PRINCESS IN THIS MARKET ( The Christmas cruise on Sun Princess at the same time last year offered far superior service and all round product.)
Some examples that may seem trivial but the constant battle to get things right is not how it should be:
Linen wasn't changed for 10 days and then only after several requests. It was also of very poor quality (thin, holes, stained) - no crisp white ironed sheets here!
From check in it took 3 days and 10 keys!! to get ones that opened our cabin
We had so many different charges on our bill that didn't belong to us it became a joke. Everyday we had to check and get them removed and then on disembarkation morning when the final bill arrived the whole lot had been put back on again!
Room Service requests frequently never happened
There was no information available in the cabin about what services were available - no info on things like the soda pass or wine card. Only people who had cruised with HAL before knew about them Turn down service existed of turning the corner of the bed down and putting chocolates on bed. No refresh of bathroom or room. Toiletries were also never replaced throughout the cruise except soap.
Generally staff seemed undertrained, overworked and unhappy
General cleanliness of cabin and ship average
The only activities available for children under 18 was provided by the kids club and these were inadequate and boring. Apparently only 1/3 of the children onboard went to it regularly which left many (including mine) roaming the ship bored and taking over the lido pool. Despite politely worded requests in the newsletter that they restrict themselves to the aft pool it wasn't policed and their overwhelming presence and noise disturbed the older cruisers. Despite many complaints from the older brigade about this you rarely saw any members of the cruise "entertainment" staff on deck unless they were hosting a cocktail making function (paid) or towel animal demonstration (flogging book!). On other cruise lines they have very visible youth security patrolling day and night plus activity and entertainment staff always around
The port arrangements left you believing this was the only time they had visited these ports. Despite knowing how few had taken up shoreex and would be requiring wharf to town transport they were always surprised by the numbers and inadequate services were provided which left people queuing for ages with no alternative as you couldn't walk off the port due to security reasons. The Hotel Manager's response to this was next time we'll charge for the shuttle service and arrange more buses!
ENTERTAINMENT Unless it was a paid event or promoting a paid event e.g. SPA, BINGO, ART AUCTION, CULINARY EVENT, OPAL SHOWING etc there were very few activities during the day, no sailaway parties, rarely music on deck and no games you could participate in as a family. There was a daily quiz that was very dry, occasional games (adults only) and a daily cooking demonstration. Cruise Director was the worst of any I have ever encountered and refused to enhance or adapt the program to entertain those demanding more. There seemed to be an inflexible policy and "by the book" mentality that dictated the usual routine be followed come what may!. Many people we spoke with were bored, so much so that we formed our own entertainment group of different families which grew and grew and ran things that are usually run by the entertainment staff on other ships - shuffleboard and table tennis tournaments, scavenger hunts, sailaway parties etc. I contacted the Hotel Manager as I wanted to let him know how disappointed we were and that so many people were unhappy and give him the opportunity to fix it while we were onboard but he really wasn;t that interested. As I said to him we know things are different elsewhere on other cruiselines as we've always enjoyed our cruises as a family on a variety of cruiselines (Princess, Oceania, Carnival) and maybe this time we just chose the wrong ship. However for first time cruisers many would think this was what cruising was all about and will never cruise again. The ship was also so American and didn't seem to make any concession at all to the fact that the majority of the passengers weren't and that she was based in Australian waters for at least 3 months.There were many requests made by pax for some Australian and NZ news and to pick up an Australian feed on the satellite to cover the Sydney Hobart race and the Boxing Day test. They managed to organize it for 2 days while we were in NZ but after that nothing. They changed the timing of the evening shows so if you were late seating you had to go to the 7.00 show and early seating the 9.00 show. This left us with little or no choice after dinner. Usually when cruising the evening consists of dinner then the show, nightclub or piano bar - bed. The piano bar had a nightly "name that tune" but the piano man was very flamboyant and we enjoyed his performance but it certainly wasn't for everyone! With no show to go to after dinner, piano bar not suitable for all, string quartet in the Ocean Bar very placid, the nightclub run by a DJ who played questionable music, then got overrun by teenagers, nights became very boring for many. I would really hesitate to recommend Volendam to anyone that isn't sedentary and looking for entertainment.Despite big promotions for their kids club this one did not do the trick for many onboard. This was meant to be a celebratory Christmas and New Year cruise and is naturally going to attract families. Christmas was so poorly done (again compared to the event they made it on Princess last year) and didn't have any magic at all. New Year's Eve was quite a celebration on the aft deck, but with Sydney Harbour and the fireworks as a backdrop hard to get it wrong! ( Apparently it was originally promoted that the ship would be moored at Circular Quay or in the harbour to see the bridge and this later changed to put us at Darling Harbour with a much lesser view and the U.S. passengers weren't told - rumors of a class action pending!!) I have cruised on Volendam before many years ago in the Caribbean and expected so much more. I always believed HAL was just a cut above Princess but couldn;t have been more wrong. Service and standards were mediocre and indifferent. There was no excellence. On a positive note food was probably better than Princess, but presentation was below par. The cabins too were of a good size as per all HAL ships and the general layout of the ship gave it a very spacious feel with good public areas. Whinge over - but feel the cruise was a waste of a family holiday and not good value or an enjoyable experience at all. Thank goodness I know there are cruising alternatives and can only imagine they "dumbed down" the product for this market.