Although the check in was very efficient, that's where all pretense ended. Starting with the crew member greeting us with hand sanitizer on the gangway, we knew this would be a different kind of cruise. Too bad I hadn't read other reviews before sailing! The whole 5 days was an experience in frustration. The daily bulletin did not accurately report the times and places for lectures.The 'dine anytime' feature was a hassle, as that meant dine anytime THEY could fit you in. At a table size of their choice. Meals were so-so, and never finished in time to go to the shows in the ever so cold Rubens Lounge.The poor ventilation and smells on the ship, along with the carpet splitting at the seams, the ceramic in the bathrooms falling apart and rusted,and the poor physical condition of the ship questions why HAL even bothered to have this 5 day cruise. It went into drydock just hours after we disembarked, but they were already dismantling the ship while we were on it! It was like the passengers were in their way! The attitude of the staff members was mostly of indifference, as if they were too busy planning their vacation. One staff member even cut in front of me in the food line in the Lido buffet!!! No trays, making multiple trips necessary, which added to the confusion. No coffee on the last day! Where to eat became a game of the lesser of evils. Lectures were designed to sell products and spa services. The movie, on the small screen in the culinary arts center, had no popcorn.They didn't bother to inform us that movies were repeated on the TV in our room during the week at various times. Free lectures were given at 9am, while other ones, like scrapbooking, given later in the day, cost $29. Art auctions, art sales, raffles, BINGO (which was the most boring BINGO I have ever been to), also raised money. Charges for the water and soda they so nicely provided you in the rooms was a bit much.The smoking on board was also troubling, especially with the poor ventilation. Plumbing problems were everywhere, with toilets backing up and sewer smells in various parts of the ship. You didn't have to read the menu for dinner, just walk on main deck toward the kitchen, and you knew. Elevators that didn't work, even trapping two women, added to the 'fun' and adventure of the trip. As we had been to these two islands before, we did not take any shore excursions. In Cozumel, we docked at the farthest port, had to tender in, another frustration, as if they had never tendered into a port before, and we had to pay a taxi $7 each way to drive us into 'downtown'.
But the worst incident concerned shopping at the two ports: Grand Cayman and Cozumel. Alison, the shopping expert, gave the shopping talk, which indicated several #1 rated and cruise line backed merchants. She was even in the stores herself to 'help' you spend your money. She touted great values and investment quality stones. 30 day buyers guarantee if you bought ONLY at the stores they endorsed. (You even had to turn in a sheet telling what you bought, the price and where, in order to 'activate' your guarantee! (and indicate the % Holland America got back?) When I realized the ring I bought in Grand Cayman, at Diamonds International was uncomfortable because of the design, we spoke to Alison on the dock in Cozumel the next day, on our way back to Diamonds International, to return the ring. She was of no help. It's between me and the store!! She sure was there to help us buy the day before! As we discovered,Diamonds International has a NO RETURN policy, which isn't mentioned at all in the ships' talk, and although the receipt says on the bottom, "returns must be accompanied by receipt", the back, which we were never allowed to see in the rush of purchase, says 'buyers remorse' is not covered. Call the 800 number. When you do, you get assigned a bogus claim number, and a callback from a blocked international call with a foreign sounding agent you can't understand. THERE ARE NO RETURNS FROM THIS COMPANY, DIAMONDS INTERNATIONAL, AND NOT ONE WORD OF HELP FROM THE SHIP!BEWARE! Do NOT shop at this store, anywhere. H. Stern and Columbian Emeralds are fine, ethical, established stores who actually care about customers. And don't believe that Holland America will help you. And ask the 'expert' first about minor details about returns. It's not like shopping at home. Better yet, stick to cheap souvenirs like t-shirts and vanilla.
To book another HAL cruise while on board, it is a $100p/p non-refundable booking fee! After the way we were treated on this one, why would we want to endure any more of this nonsense? We came home, and immediately started looking at Oceania, MSC and Celebrity. After 39 years of cruising and many many wonderful cruises on HAL, this 5 day cruise did us in. Perhaps we have grown up and they haven't. It felt more like a Carnival Cruise than anything else. When another reviewer said it was Motel 6, he was being extra nice.
I only hope that the complete renovation of the ship will help the physical features. However, the REAL problem is the staff and their horrible attitude. The crew, on the other hand, were just fine. Our cabin steward did his job. Even so, I was so enraged at the total cruise experience, that I went to the front desk and lowered the service fee they automatically add to your bill. I hope they get the message.