There wasn't any question, Holland was our first choice. We have cruised with other lines, such as Norwegian, and have raced down the gangplank without ever looking back. Holland America was, to our way of thinking, a guarantee for a pampered and care-free cruise. We don't ask for too much but we do expect to be treated like welcome and respected guests. Lord knows, we pay enough for that courtesy. This was not the case aboard the Noordam. After a few days aboard, we began to call her, NO DAM, and we'll tell you why. Never, in our experience, has a Holland America crew been so content using the word NO, excepting at those times that you'd expect them to. Upon discussing our cruise options with a Holland salesperson, we requested a "bargain" priced balcony stateroom. We were advised that for a few hundred dollars more we'd stand a good chance for an upgrade. It sounded attractive so we allowed our reservation to remain open, without a guaranteed cabin. It was to be assigned upon boarding.
After foolishly arriving at the port too early, we spent two hours in a gymnasium type setting awaiting embarkation. Hot chocolate was served liberally as we waited but coffee was out of the question. Finally we were ushered aboard. Please understand, Holland was not at fault for our foolish early arrival. We were then directed to our newly assigned cabin on the eighth, Navigation deck. Cabin 8013 was 13 cabins back from the bow of the ship. It was a bit bouncy up there and being right below the buffet lunchroom and pool we were serenaded with scraping chairs and tables, day and night. We have never regarded the height of the deck as a badge of honor but rather have always selected our cabin to be mid-ship. The walk is so much more convenient from a central location to, for example, the dining room which is all the way aft. Since we booked months in advance of the cruise, and had we taken the identical, lower priced stateroom, we'd have reserved a centrally located room, albeit on a lower deck. Again, our mistake, but this time with a nudge from Holland who was more than happy to charge more and then assign us to an unpopular cabin which resides directly below the buffet dining and pool area. We were serenaded by scraping chairs and tables, day and night.
This was our anniversary cruise and the only reason that we were aboard that ship at that time was to celebrate our anniversary. To enjoy that special day we had booked a reservation in the specialty, cost extra, Pinnicle Grill. And again, we made the reservation to be on the day of our anniversary, booked months in advance of the cruise. Upon boarding, we were given confirmation of that reservation. Several days into the cruise, upon returning to the ship from an exhausting shore excursion, we found a note from the manager of the Pinnicle. He informed us that the reservation for our anniversary (which was the following evening) had been cancelled and we were being ordered to report to the Pinnicle Grill, two hours from the time that we had returned to the ship. Since there was no apology or compensation for this capricious change, we assumed that this meant that if we didn't report for dinner as directed, we'd forfeit the forty dollars that we'd spent for this special dinner. We went to ship's services where a very cordial representative showed concern. We appreciate the efforts he made to resurrect our reservation for the following evening, ON our anniversary. What we discovered, as we entered the Pinnicle and were greeted by the very disgruntled manager was, disheartening to say the least. We were seated in a quiet corner of the empty restaurant as the manager explained that they had cancelled 20 confirmed reservations so that instead of serving dinners (at $20 per head) Holland America had instead decided to clear the room in order to hold a wine-tasting event, or better put, an opportunity to sell overpriced bottles of wine. Some forty or more guests had been given an unexpected boot in order to make room for an income opportunity. As it turned out, there were only seven guests attracted to this event. We sat. like lepers, in our corner of the otherwise empty restaurant. We were the only guests served dinner that evening. And the flowers I had ordered to be placed on the table, as an anniversary gift for my wife, were delivered to our cabin because our reservation had been cancelled. Perhaps, under other circumstances there would have been some honor, being the only dinner guest, but in this case it was understandably embarrassing. We spent the rest of the cruise, looking over our shoulders, wondering what would they pull next? The pinnicle decision had been so blatant and yet so poorly conceived, we knew we were aboard the "ship of fools."
Earlier we mentioned the "NO DAM" experience. We had been provided with a gift, from the travel agency of two coupon booklets that provided for a total of 40 signature drinks to be enjoyed during the cruise. Unfortunately, Holland had sold these coupons without telling anyone what "Signature drinks" were. Even the ship's office could not provide a comprehensive explanation as to what "Signature drink" meant. Every time we'd order, even the simplest of drinks we were told NO, as this wasn't a Signature drink. When we'd ask what constituted a signature drink, different bartenders would give varying answers. We had to learn which bar to go to in order to get the drinks that we desired. Occasionally they'd bill our room an additional fifty cents if that bartender didn't subscribe to what the last barkeep had assured us of. So much for $100. worth of coupons. We are not big drinkers but enjoy a few cocktails while on vacation. These coupons were so frustrating, on a ten day cruise, we had only 10 cocktails, and gave the other coupon book to strangers. It was not the end of the world, but it was aggravating.
Now at times, when you'd expect the crew to say no, they were much too shy. Blue jeans, in violation of the main dining dress code, children in the adult only pool, helter skelter colliding lines in the buffet, lounge chairs and tables that were reserved, sometimes all day, with a towel or newspaper placed upon them. In the buffet, both a crew member and I watched a woman take a tray to the food line. With so many plates, it made good sense to me. When I tried to secure one, the crew member then told me NO, I was not entitled to use a tray. When you'd expect crew-persons to intercede it was only then that they forgot the word no! Having said this, our cruise aboard the Oosterdam, one year ago was a pleasure and without any of these problems. We therefore must conclude that it wasn't Holland America that was so much at fault but rather a very poorly run Holland America ship. It is also safe to say that if it weren't for the Pinnicle debacle the smaller annoyances would not have been quite so noticeable.
Incidentally, since they failed to tell us in the store, aboard the Noordam, the customs inspector had to inform us that we were not allowed to bring five cartons of cigarets back into the States. The custom official pointed out that, had we purchased the ciggs in the U.S. Virgin Islands, at the same price as the ship, five cartons would then have been permissible. It is a shame when profit outweighs service.