I have been on 86 cruises in 35 years (I am not 50 yet - I started young!). My very first cruise was on the old Rotterdam with my grandparents. I've spent a total of 38 days onboard Holland America. To say it isn't how I remember it would be a major understatement.
I talked my partner and and also my best friend from high school into trying Holland America. I went on and on about how nice it was, great service, lots of art, flowers, and despite the perception of being boring and a senior cruise - it would be a cruise to remember. I was so wrong and so right at the same time (I was right - it was a cruise to remember). Don't worry about no movies under the stars - they have all the other activities. Wrong again. Seriously nothing to do for hours on end.
SAN DIEGO ARRIVAL AND EMBARKATION: Off to a great start with the $2.25 per person city bus right from baggage claim to the cruise terminal. Fantastic. Not a great facility and one gate open to let 2 ship loads of people in and out. Dropped off our bags and did the 15 minute walk down the fantastic waterfront to Seaport Village. Killed some time, walked back to the ship and was onboard about 10 minutes after entering the terminal. Credibility intact.
STATEROOM: Booked a Verandah Suite for the three of us. Lots of room, double vanity, tub with whirlpool jets, standalone shower stall, etc. Five days before sailing, upgraded to Deluxe Verandah. No opportunity to accept or decline. Just changed. So I thought I would get all of the above plus the extra perks of Neptune Lounge and the sofa was bigger and promised to make into a double bed. Well, they gave us cabin 6175. Handicap access - we are not handicaped. Lots of room - yes. Double vanity - no. Tub with jets - no. Shower stall - no (in fact worse - do not use unless you want a pool in your bathroom). Extra large sofa - no (made into twin size springy bed). Again, no chance to say yes or no. Just done. Neptune Lounge? Nice but don't see what the fuss is about. Bed was comfy but the room never seemed to cool down. Wall mounted lamps were sagging off the wall. Lamp shade on one bedside lamp was taped in place. Access to private DVD libray - never had the movies we wanted (how someone else wanted to watch the 1969 version of Pink Panter seems odd to me). Embarassment starts.
SHIP: Here is where the "I told you so part" comes into play. MANY reviewers have talked about the decor. I thought, how garish and ugly could it be? After all, I am Platinum/Concierge level on Carnival and some call those ships garish. Well, nothing can really prepare you for the ugliness of this ship. Beautiful artwork - didn't see it. Flowers - sparse and boring. The new parts of the ship really stand out and have promise. But the rest. It is hard to put into words. Flea market looking faded prints in the cabin hallways can't dampen the screaming loud blue or red pattern (nausea inducing) carpets. If the colors weren't screaming and glaring it was so dark you could hardly see. The furniture looks worn and tattered - everywhere you look. The lido? Yellow carpet in one section suddenly changes to blue, to red, to something else. The main dining room is red. And more red. And then some more red. And the heaviest and most impossible to move chairs at sea. OK Holland America, do something about this ship. By far the ugliest ship I have ever sailed on and that says a lot. Embarassment compunded. Signature of Excellence - not.
SERVICE: Embarassed part compounds here and in a huge way. Now we all have heard about Noro and "code red" situations onboard ships. Without explanation, we boarded a ship apparently in code red mode. Saran wrap wrapped all the food stations - barrier ropes to keep you away from drinks, salad bars, etc. You had to be served everything by a staff that seemed indifferent and tired. Once you got them to understand what you wanted you were so annoyed the appetite was gone. Main dining room was "dine as you wish". OMG what a mess. Got seated quickly but that was the highlight. Ignored for an eternity, finally got order placed, ignored again, allowed one piece of bread, ignored, then food came and was tasty but lukewarm. Salad came after dessert. Not good. In the lido and dining room - you weren't allowed salt and pepper shakers, ketchup, or to touch anything. It felt like we were viewed as disease carrying toxic pains in the butt. Once the code red was lifted (again no explanation) 36 hours into the cruise, things got so much better. But unfortunately, the damage was done. Embarrassment complete. Good thing - cabin steward was very friendly in the old Holland America style.
Would I go on Holland America again - probably not. Would I ever ask my partner to go again - NO. I feel I spent 4 days in a cabin I didn't want being treated like a pain as opposed as a valued customer (and I will add I am a stockholder of Carnival Corporation). It is back to Princess as our first choice. Even a Fantasy class Carnival ship would be a welcome step up from Zuiderdam.
To my partner and our friend, I can only say I am SO sorry. To Holland America - come on guys you need to get it together. To Cruise Critic contributors - you told me so. To folks considering Zuiderdam - I suggest you look elsewhere.