We went from being HAL fans from our first experience on NYC to Caribbean cruise in 2007 to vowing we will not use HAL again as a result of the non-service oriented HAL management on this past cruise from Oct. 31 to Nov. 18/09 to Chile.
We had requested pre-boarding due to a disability. When we boarded Oct. 31st, the port staff did not handle boarding of disabled passengers well. In fact, their process was downright confusing & difficult for the disabled to keep up with: they were lost among the able-bodied moving past them.
On board, the cabin assignment appeared to be ok, until we saw the lanai cabin friends had. This would have been a much better option for someone with Parkinson's disease than having to get out the cabin door, move through the hallways and then push the heavy door to access the deck. Who overlooked that obvious accommodation of a disability?
Then there were the problems with the birthday celebration which was not to be. No birthday card from our travel agent (which we knew was no oversiight on her part), no balloons on the door despite notification from our agent and our party via email, as well as two front desk visits on 2 separate days before the date. Major disappointment.
When we advised the Cruise Director as he was passing, he said he would follow up. He sent a HAL blanket and an XL T-shirt to our cabin, advising us they never got any information re: birthday. His gesture was appreciate; however HAL had been sent emails, front desk was spoken to on two separate occasions and their jewellery store sent us a coupon for a birthday discount. So, who was not doing their job? The best part was receiving a birthday email from Princess cruise lines! They got it right and we were not on their ship!!!!
We came across another couple who also had a birthday on the same day and the response they received was the same. Our situation was not a mere oversight or unique. This same couple had a medical problem and when the wife called the Front desk to have the doctor come to their cabin, no one followed up. After 3 phone calls she had to leave her husband and go fetch the doctor herself.
At dinner that evening in the Pinnacle Grill, what was supposed to be a birthday celebration was another disappointment. The cake ordered was chocolate: the cake delivered was strawberry with vanilla icing. It didn't even taste good, so we requested the Maitre d' remove it from our table. He was very annoyed by the failure of the front desk to get the information correct & put him & his staff in an embarrassing situation. He pulled thru and got us a lovely chocolate dessert.
He was a professional with style; however we did not care for the young girls who were serving. They approached the table with a trolley full of raw meat which was a revolting sight. At our age, we know what a steak looks like! The young girls also did not have any awareness of proper serving etiquette and we were constantly interrupted by their chirping & asking us questions. This was complained about by other guests sitting with us and those we talked to onboard.
Rotterdam dining room was ok; however we much preferred eating our meals at the buffet. The staff were friendlier, and we could move at our own pace and choose what we wanted without long service delays. The food was excellent as were the staff.
The cruise director Joseph began to be known as the "virtual" cruise director, as he was best known for his PA address each day. Whatever he was doing, it wasn't great. The entertainment left a lot to be desired; the daily activities were less than creative and the music in the lounges in the evening was SAD! With the exception of the DJ, the activities staff had attitude - not a good one.
The biggest scam was the cost of using email & internet. We brought our own laptops, thinking it would be similar to checking into a hotel where you are given a password and there is no charge for the service. WRONG!!!! The charges were outrageous!!!!! Fellow passengers were very upset, as we were. We gave up our plans to do any work while onboard due to the excessive cost. This charge should be eliminated; if not, reviewed for a more reasonable range.
Being charged by the minute is not user-friendly when the service is as slow and erratic as at sea service can be. If the staff are using email to keep in touch with HQ, etc. why the exorbitant charge to guests? I don't believe that charge can be justified, except as a subsidy for the cost of the service for the ship's use.
If there is to be a charge, the rates should be clearly explained in the pre-boarding information for passengers so they can make an informed decision about whether or not to bring their own computers.
Our cabin steward service was lacklustre, and it was erratic. Some days it was fine; other days it was hit & miss. Our trip ended poorly when our cabin steward removed documents which were none of his business off of our bed, which was made. There would have been no reason for him to touch the documents.
We went to the front desk to inquire, and then had to track him down and he admitted removing the documents. We were not pleased as they were no where to be found as a result of his inappropriate behaviour. We considered this a serious invasion of our privacy. One of the papers he removed was the 3rd envelope which contained a sample of the grit we were planning to bring home and have tested. We do not believe the removal of these documents and that envelope was a mistake on his part.
Our ability to relax in our cabin in the evening and get to sleep was disrupted each night by the noise from above we were subjected to starting around 6:30 and going on into the wee hours. We discovered we were under the Rotterdam dining room and had to listen to the chairs being moved, items being dropped and the clean up afterward. Again, we approached the Front Desk to register our concern.
We were asked if the noise was happening now; we replied no. We were then advised to call the Front Desk when the noise was happening and it would be investigated. We were discounted and not believed and were very annoyed with the treatment we were receiving. We advised her we had better things to do than call them to come and listen to the noise to confirm we were telling the truth and then to have it investigated - forget it! As a result, our evenings were not peaceful and quiet. The noise was loud enough we had to turn up the music or the TV so we could hear it. It took a while for us to block out the noise and be able to fall asleep at a reasonable hour.
The shore excursions were erratic as well. Some were well organized and reasonably priced; while others were outrageous. Our first excursion in Peru was the most expensive and the worst due to the lack of knowledge, service and command of English by the tour guide. It was a waste of our day and a major disappointment. We, along with the majority of the tour, wanted a refund. A day or so later we got unaddressed and unsigned letters delivered to our cabins, advising us that "...as a gesture of goodwill, we would be reimbursed 1/2 of our cost". Neither impressive nor acceptable.
We wrote on the letter, this was a breach of contract, not a gesture of goodwill situation, and half of the $134 per person charge was unacceptable and returned it to the Shore Excursions office. We got no further response.
The day of the Mariner luncheon, we woke up to find our desk totally covered with black soot! It was alarming as we then became concerned about the quality of air in our cabin. We had already decided we would not attend the luncheon as we were unimpressed with the senior level staff and their lack of concern re: the poor service from the Front Desk and the poor attitudes of many of the staff working there, as well as the other concerns we had taken time to identify.
The black soot was scooped into envelopes addressed to Captain Van Maurik, as well as the Director of Customer Service, Frank ?, and we handed them to them as they stood in the reception line, after all of the mariners had entered the dining room. In our letter we explained why we would not be attending the luncheon and the concerns we had. We offered to make ourselves available to give them feedback and we requested that the black soot they now had on their hands be dealt with immediately for the sake of our health.
According to the Front Desk manager, the Engineering department told them it was only dust! NOT! Dust is not jet black and gritty. We were not offered another cabin or any apology.
Our letter was not acknowledged by Captain van Maurik. We were never asked to meet with anyone about our concerns. The only response finally was a letter from the Director of Customer Service, advising us he had consulted with H.O., crediting our bill for $200.00, again, as a "gesture of goodwill". We were insulted by the inappropriate & repeated use of this phrase in situations where there was clearly fault and poor service, and possibly a health hazard.
In our opinion, this was an unacceptable response from the Captain and his senior staff. From that point on there was no turning back; we knew we would never sail with HAL again.
Interestingly enough, I accidentally entered a "closed door" meeting between some senior management and senior mariners - all 4 of them. They were set up to hear their comments and concerns in a manner which I thought would have been far more of a valuable experience for them had the attendees been 1st and 2nd time cruisers.
The laundry service was mediocre, and the alternative also cost money. The guests I met in the laundry room were very displeased at having to pay too much or any money at all to use the washers and dryers on the ship. And apparently many of the machines were out of service.
The Veendam senior management with the exception of Chef Karl, needs a major enema. Their inability to display a customer-service oriented attitude and persona to their guests is unacceptable in the hospitality industry. If they cannot walk around with a smile on their faces, greeting guests in a friendly manner, they should stay in their offices or definitely out of guest areas.
Additional comments heard from many other guests which we agreed with: -why napkin folding and flower arranging instead of something useful like Spanish lessons? -why the emphasis on Diamonds International and jewellery only and not information on other shopping like clothing, bathing suits, good quality souvenirs? -why such poor entertainment in each lounge? lack of variety? -why was the port information so inadequate and often wrong? Chile does not accept the $US anywhere and this was a huge inconvenience for us and all of the other passengers who disembarked at Valparaiso -why were Front Desk staff so surly to guests making inquiries, or wanting to get cash for shore? I watched a Front Desk staff glare at a passenger who requested she count the money she was giving him! On another occasion, a simple exchange of ripped currency which was not acceptable in Peru was made into a major deal. Another staff member came out muttering, "just exchange the bill....." -why could the Front Desk not deal with guest birthdays? We met others whose birthday or anniversary were also ignored by the Front Desk. -why is the Excursion Desk not open in the morning before excursions are to depart? This was most inconvenient if your excursion was cancelled the night before, or you wanted to see if one was available at the last minute? - why are the costs of the excursions not more competitive? why were guests able to book their own for far less $$$$$?
We will stop here.
No thanks to HAL we met charming fellow guests and had a lovely trip.
We will be cruising again in future, just not with HAL.