Background Information: We have been on several cruises, with many different lines, and this was our first Holland America experience. We have 2 disabled guests, and 2 children in our group.
Hotel Info: When leaving from Ft Lauderdale, we ALWAYS stay at The Hilton Garden Inn. It's just a couple minutes from the port, and they allow you to leave your car for the duration of your cruise. They also provide transportation to and from the ship. The rooms are great and the breakfast is amazing! Ship Info: We booked basic balcony rooms for myself and my parents (my sister and her family had one of the penthouse suites and it was amazing!). We also booked the first seating dinner, and studied all of over options before sailing.
Activities: This is where it got kind of dicey for us. There were few activities geared towards young people or families. The major problem we had was when there were activities we were interested in, they were often taking place at the same time as something else we were interested in. So there would be times where we wanted to do something and missed it, and then the rest of the day nothing else was offered. Things were not spaced out very well. In addition the daily update of things to do was not listed in your normal chronological manner, it was more of a highlights format. It made it difficult to plan your day, as you would have to look through it several times to find out what was next.
Service: Holland America is known for their world class service and they didn't fall short of expectations. Especially for the disabled guests, they went above and beyond to make your vacation as easy as anyone else's. We loved the towels and drinks offered at embarkation from ports of call! The crew was always smiling, and many of them learned your name. No one ever walked by you without greeting you.
Port & Shore Excursions: We took a couple excursions, and didn't have any problems. The prices were pretty much in line with other cruise lines. I didn't like how we didn't have the ability to view excursions, and book them from our tv like many other lines too. In fact you weren't able to check your onboard account in your room either. To make up for that though, the had several self service screens throughout the ship that could book your excursion, print your tickets, and also check your account. Those were a nice touch. Stateroom: Our room was nice enough, and we liked being able to have the divider opened b/t our room and our parents room on the balconies. For my wife and I, and our baby the room became very cramped. We were unable to use the sitting area at all. It's one of the smallest rooms we've had in a long time. I'm not sure if that is representative of the rest of the ship or not. There was plenty of closet space, cabinets and storage under the bed, which helped! The bathroom was adequate as any ship. It often smelled though. Not a big deal..haha. The TV was small, and far away from the bed...but it got us through the downtimes. Being able to watch a dvd in your room was a welcome treat. Dining: The dining was good enough for me, but I'm not too picky. I will say they "ran out" of quite a few things during the trip, which was odd. The lines at the lido were often slow (not long) and it lacked variety for a 10 day cruise.
Children's Clubs: We knew going in that my daughter (baby) was too young to take advantage of the kids clubs. However, we DID NOT appreciate a note on the first day saying your baby is not welcome in the ships pools. I understand why they said it, but it was lacking in tact, and certainly not a great way to start our cruise. My nephew was one of only a few kids on this cruise (10 y/o) and once we finally convinced him to go to the kids club...he loved it!
Entertainment: The shows weren't bad..they were pretty much up to par. However there was a seating issue in the theater. It seemed like it wasn't big enough to hold everyone from the first seating. It was also lacking ample seating for disabled guests. There were quite a few wheelchairs and walkers on this cruise, and no where for them to go. We often waited for the second seating show b/c it wasn't as full. They featured a favorite comedian of mine, Fred Klett, and a fantastic performer who had appeared on "America's Got Talent." Those were both nice treats. The cruise director and his staff were very friendly and polite.
Disembarkation: The disembarkation process was pretty smooth, and went well. If you have been on a cruise before, you won't need to go to the disembarkation talk. You'll know what to do. My only complaint was my transfer to the airport. They had me sit on that bus for about 45 minutes waiting for more people to come. No one ever did. In that time they could have made at least 3 trips to the airport and back..it's across the street!
Summary: When it comes to Holland America, its a mixed bag, like many lines. It depends on why you are going. If you are going to party, and get wild...this is not the line for you. If you are a more old fashioned cruiser, or someone who needs extra assistance..you will love this line! If you care about service and tradition..Holland America has it. If you need to be entertained and stimulated all the time...you'll want to look elsewhere. Holland America tends to have a better variety of destinations. Will I go back? Probably not anytime soon, as we are a young family. My parents would go back tomorrow if they could.
I hope this helps.