Investor Insights based on passenger observations and personal experiences from the Holland America Ryndam Holiday Cruise from Dec 21st through Sunday Jan 4, 2009
Good riddance was the mantra for the day for many passengers as they disembarked from this two week holiday cruise on the Ryndam as we arrived late in San Diego. There was not a tear to be shed or a sob to be found as many seasoned cruisers appeared to be disenchanted at the culmination of this voyage. I was not surprised when disembarkation was at least 90 minutes late to start (we were suppose to be off at 9:45 AM and retrieved our luggage after 10:45 AM-luckily we made our flight as it was delayed) nor that the elevators at both the aft and forward locations had mechanical failed requiring some folks to be taken off in the service elevator. These elevators are in need of dire repair-the elevator buttons would not light in some, while others would flicker. On at least three separate occasions I experienced a brake problem with the elevators and on one occasion had to step up about 10 inches to get off.
Knowing that CCL cut their dividend and management was addressing the company's bottom line, I expected some changes, but was disappointed that the signature of excellence was severely compromised in the process.
There will always be a few things that go awry on a voyage as we do not live in a perfect world and we usually are just nonchalant about it.
I was a little surprised when on day one of the cruise the front counter personnel would not replace my wife's 100 day pin that was broken as they did not have enough supplies and they would send one to our room later if they had enough-it never happened. Okay, but when we went over to the explorer's lounge and requested a deck of cards to play a game-we were turned down as they did not have any supplies. We were told cards were available for purchase in the Casino-hmm.
Moving on our Dining Room Table stewards were excellent, however, the Pinnacle Grill folks were less than satisfactory. We always looked forward to this venue and frequent a few times per voyage. Not this time, it took 20 minutes for someone to bring a signature cocktail list to make a selection from. I clearly pointed out to the staff I was highly allergic to both egg and all poultry products. They insisted they would take the utmost care. When the hors d'oeuvres were brought the waiter could not tell me what was in the three brought to me, however, I already knew from many past voyages. In the past I was given a couple of Bruschetta as the others appetizers contained egg. I had questioned the warm bacon dressing in the salad and the salad dressing. I was assured all were safe. After the first bite-I knew something was awry. My son called over the waiter to let him know, that I had an allergic reaction with the salad. The waiter immediately became defensive and told me I was mistaken. I told the person this is for educational purpose that something in the salad had an egg or poultry ingredient. This person insisted I was wrong and was quite terse. He later must have been told to apologize. Should I mention that several of the side's dishes were not brought to our table as ordered until we reminded the servers? I won't mention my brother's tough lobster or the other disappointments. Several days later the chef I had met in Alaska stopped by to visit us on the Lido as he recognized us from the two voyages on the Ryndam in Alaska this past summer. He informed me that the warm bacon dressing is made with turkey bacon and if staff had inquired it would hot have been served to me.
The food in the dinning room was better than the Pinnacle, however you have to savor what you can because the pickings were awful slim and the prospects no matter how hard you squint were just plain bleak. Looking at a coupon for Black Angus that I have-I regretfully submit that this chain restaurant would receive higher marks for a better quality of food. Should I mention that the Hot Woks in the local super markets now do a better job with the oriental dishes than the Lido?
The pomp and circumstance that use to accompany the Master Chef's dinner was noticeably absent-yes they did the same motions but without the props, for example the parade of the baked Alaska no longer has the sparklers on top. Although the first time cruiser would not know the difference, it was not the case for the many of us who had cruised before and on other Holland America Holiday Cruises.
Should I mention that all of us traveling together were not even invited to the mariner's luncheon for the same sitting? We had staff fix the reservation time. The before luncheon cocktails were no longer offered and only wine was served with lunch - but these subtle changes again were an example of the noticeable cut backs. Clearly front office staff was not on top of their game plan. When I question sail away cocktail charges on my bill as someone inadvertently used the wrong room number - I requested that they pull another tag for comparison that did have my 17 year old son's signature for a soda card for the cabin that he was in-they refused and he had to go to the front desk to correct their error.
Are the cutbacks the new paradigm for Holland America mariners? Those past perks supplied to former cruisers have succumbed to a vicious bout of vertigo in memory.
Apparently across the Holland America line - these changes were implemented November 1st. I wasn't looking for disgruntled passengers on this cruise - but somehow I kept running into them in the dinning room for breakfast when I joined other travelers. What are the likely hoods I would eat breakfast and every time people started complaining?
After several encounters with disgruntled passengers I decided to interview a few of the smiling stewards (about 10 percent of the staff) to learn about downsizing and increased workload. The morale has been shattered for many except those with their first contract. Supplies are short and staff does not have the needed tools to do their jobs effectively. We all have had jobs we didn't like, but somehow made the best of them so we could pay the bills-this message somehow is not universal and has resulted in many resignations among the crew.
Random Comments: Supply problems-No batteries for remotes (TVs-DVD). One cruise staff mentioned that recently they did not have any Kleenex and were instructed to put five sheets in an empty box. Event staff did not have all the needed supplies to hand out for the dam dollar redemption-travelers were furious. Event staff was told to scrimp at dam dollar events. Cabins weren't that clean-fortunately we had Clorox wipes and cleaned drawers before we put our clothes in. Hand towels put on the floor to be changed were re-hung on a couple of occasions. The bed linens reportedly were not changed on a two week cruise. When Cabin stewards were off, they did not turn down the bed sheets at night as they hurriedly knocked on the door and handed out chocolates along with literature for the next day. Was the laundry equipment working properly as the wash cloths did not have the Clorox removed 100%. Does the ventilation system filters get cleaned or changed? There were a lot of sick passengers. The coffees were hit and miss and sometimes tasted like someone reused the grounds. Observed passengers' complaints in the dining room as orders for both lunch and breakfast were wrong. With deflation on the horizon-gratuities' were raised with less service provided. Chocolate extravaganza has lost the extravagance in contrast to just as recent as last summer. When a passenger told me they wouldn't bother to get off in Manzanillo-I should have listened. Ditto for Puerto Chiapas-the tour bus parked in a poultry yard to get to the Izapa Ruins and the Chocolate City portion was a bust. This was a desperate attempt to offer a tour. I could list more but what is the point.
There were many passengers with a chip on their shoulder and I did not believe them for a nanosecond, however many long-time cruisers were disenchanted also.
One final note: Two of the passengers that had been on multiple cruises across the spectrum of cruise lines - summed Ryndam stewards and help like this - they thought the Norwegian line cruise Pride of Aloha staff were the worst ever until they went on this cruise.
As an investor it is my belief from what we just experienced is that this lack of quality going forward will have severe financial consequences - unless management can attract new passengers that do not know any better.