Review of our Holland America Cruise on the Rotterdam from September 22, 2010 to Oct. 23, 2010.
I will use a 1 to 6 star rating system to match the ratings generally used in the industry. Typically, 5 stars are assigned to premium cruise lines and 6 stars are reserved for the luxury cruise lines.
Food at the La Fontain, the Main Dining Room (5 stars for the food, not the service). Ingredients were very good. Cooking: generally excellent. Fish dishes were superb for the first two weeks of the cruise, but deteriorated thereafter; meats were generally tender. Sauces were varied and flavorful. The chef was clearly very much on top of quality control in his kitchen.
Service in the Main Dining Room (3 stars). Quality of service was highly varied. Some waiters were quite friendly and attentive, whereas others were extremely slow and almost appeared to be serving us grudgingly. I think these attitudes of the wait staff are emblematic of HAL service culture that I would describe as first and foremost efficient and economical and only secondarily guest oriented. Additionally, the elderly passengers of HAL prefer to dine very early. So, the lower floor of the main dining room, reserved for "As You Wish" diners, tended to be only 1/3 to 1/4 full by 8:00 PM. So, the late seating dining atmosphere in the main dining room left much to be desired.
Food, Buffet (3 stars): This was substantially inferior to the food in the main dining room, but please note I am not a fan of buffet fare. Salad ingredients were good, but I'd guess dressings were purchased mostly from bulk processors - a sad indicator of one of the many money-saving tactics at this any many other cruise lines.
One major improvement was that the main dining room and the Pinnacle Grill were held open for lunch during port days. This was not the case in our previous cruises with HAL. I have to give HAL very high marks for making this extra effort to provide cleaner, more hygenic, and more leisurely alternative lunch environments for guests on port days.
Specialty Restaurant -- the Pinnacle Grill (4.5 stars): Pinnacle chefs continue to use excessive amounts of butter and cream in preparing vegetables and soups. I am amazed to find chefs in this day and age to be so woefully obtuse regarding health considerations in cooking. For example, my five-onion soup probably contained at least 1 ½ cups of cream. HAL needs to really get on top of this situation. Times are changing and the well-informed segments of the public require high quality cuisine without undue reliance on butter, and cream.
Additionally, for those of us who frequently lunch and dine at the Pinnacle Grill, the menu quickly becomes monotonous and tiresome. At least one new daily special would help spice things up.
Fellow Passengers (2.5 stars): I'd rate the socioeconomic standing of passengers as middle-class to upper-middle-class and somewhat lower than those we have encountered on Oceania, Azamara, or even Celebrity. Passengers on HAL tend to be elderly and probably have a mean (and median) age in excess of 70. From a practical standpoint, this means progress through the hallways or various travel lanes or waiting lines can be excruciatingly slow. In contrast to our cruises on other lines mentioned above, we had far greater difficulty meeting enjoyable and stimulating fellow passengers. The less healthy composition of elderly passengers was immediately evident about one week into the cruise when flu and cold spread like wildfire on the ship and loud and careless coughing of sick passengers was a common occurrence throughout.
Entertainment: The resident orchestra (5 stars); the Rotterdam repertory singers and dancers were marginal at best and often sounded amateurish (2 stars). The string quartet was a disaster - there is no charitable way to put it (zero stars). HAL should consider using impartial and professional string players to help select their string quartets. The lounge guitarist must have been deaf and had his amplifier cranked up to the point that any conversation within 50 feet was impossible. The dance band had competent musicians who unfortunately chose depressing tempo and selections.
Itinerary (4.5 stars): Rating an itinerary is a very subjective matter. I selected this cruise because of the itinerary and because I like sea days. You need to have a liking for snorkeling or scuba diving to enjoy most of the stops. Also, note that French Polynesia stops tend to be expensive. Papeete is an unattractive, congested, and somewhat dirty city. Our favorite stops were Fanning Island in Kiribati (a very innocent and poor community that is full of charm), Raiatea (very pretty), Bora Bora (for great excursions), and Moorea (for incredible beauty and geography).
Excursions (2 stars): Pricy. One can easily do much better independently.
Hygiene (mixed). Hallways and public bathrooms were quite clean; room stewards did a terrific job. However, hygiene at the Lido (buffet) bar was inadequate by necessity. It is simply far too difficult to maintain good hygiene at a buffet service on a ship.
Sewage handling problems: The biggest problem on the Rotterdam (and on our previous HAL cruises on the Statendam, Amsterdam, and, according to fellow passenger reports, on the Masdam) is that these ships suffer from leaking pipes (including leaking sewer pipes). So, it is not unusual to be exposed to strong sewage smells while traversing certain segments of hallways. These smells shift from place to place, depending on where pipes are leaking. If I had to guess, I would say there is a definite piping design problem on these ships. Continuous efforts are made to repair or adjust for the shortcomings, but these appear to be band-aid efforts and the problems will persist unless these ships are completely replumbed. Hopefully, HAL will pay a great deal more attention to sewage handling piping when designing their new ships.
Overall (4 stars), I think HAL is a good, but insufficiently interesting, cruise line. We now have cruised six times with HAL on six different ships. To use an alternative rating system, I'd give our first cruise with HAL on the Ryndam to Mexico a C+, our second cruise on the Zaandam to Hawaii a C, our third cruise on the Volendam an A (the high rating being largely due to an unusually warm and communicative captain, Peter Boss, and the terrific itinerary on the Seattle to Auckland trip), our fourth cruise on the Statendam to Panama Canal and parts of south America an F, our fifth cruise on the Amsterdam a C+, and our sixty cruise on the Rotterdam a C+. On balance, then, our experiences with HAL have been far short of exciting..
Value (4 stars): Value is the overall rating in the preceding paragraph divided by cost. I think HAL provides slightly above average value.