Our party consisted of two couples who had not sailed on Holland America in 20 years. When we saw the itinerary and price of this cruise we decided it was time to see how Holland America had changed. It has changed and not all for the better. Holland America bills itself as an upscale line and it certainly used to be one of the more upscale lines, but it is now just a middle of pack cruise line that no should be regarded as high end. I will not review the ports of call in this review, but have posted recommendations under specific ports. This review will concentrate on the cruise itself and is pretty long.
We sailed from Rome and had airfare and transfers provided by HA. Usually, I book my own air, but the deal HA was offering was too good to pass up. Surprisingly the air schedule was very nice. FLL to ATL-- a two hour lay over and then nonstop to Rome on Delta. The flight was very nice. We arrived in Rome at 7 AM. After getting our bags we began looking for the HA rep. Finally found her, but Princess had people all over the place. The HA rep said to get our bags and meet her under the clock. We did and were then informed that we had to lug our bags out to a waiting truck in the rain. Princess was collecting all the bags inside and taking them to the truck for the passengers--much nicer. We then had to hike back inside and find out that the bus would leave in 45 minutes. Not too bad we had a cup of coffee and a light breakfast. The bus ride to the port was fine--about and hour and 20 minutes. When we got to the port we were told to go wait inside. Inside was a warehouse type building and we were told that boarding would begin at 11:30am. I understand why, but they could have provided coffee and snacks or at least have heat since they knew a ton of people would be getting there around 9 am. Once boarding began, it was quick and easy. On boarding the ship, the first thing we all noticed was that the old HA met you with a white gloved guide to your room. Not any more. There wasn't even someone to greet you or direct you to your room. We did find our room and headed off for lunch. The advertised dining room lunch for Mariner members did not exist so you had to go to the Lido for a buffet lunch. Not a problem, but it was the first of many broken promises.
Our room was the largest and best arranged we have had on any ship. Very clean. Nice beds. Set up the way we requested and the best cabin stewards we have ever had. This was certainly up to the standard we expected from HA. Could not have been better.
Very nice. The only area that was not very good was the shopping area. Strangely arranged and not much in the way of merchandise. Very clean ship. Maybe the cleanest we have sailed on. Great maintenance and they still had the wooden deck chairs with pads. Show room very nice. Facility wise, still among the best ships afloat. We really like sailing on a mid size ship.
Here was the first area we really noticed that HA has fallen way down. The dining room service was adequate to poor. Often got orders wrong and you just did not have attentive service. Not sure if anytime dining is the reason for the decline or automatic gratuities, but the service was really not very good. The Pennacle Grill, for which there is a $20 pp service charge was the poorest service we had on the ship! The Lido buffet has some nice touches, like table clothes at night, but seemed to have a real organization problem. Often ran out of coffee and plates and drinks. Many machines always seemed out of order. One person with one grill cannot keep up with grilled sandwich demands. So you have big bottlenecks in the line. Some days they had people wandering around with refills, other days not. You never knew what you should do and what they would do and DO NOT make a suggestion-- not welcome. The service in the Canaletto was much better.
Very good-- not excellent, but very good variety and a few outstanding items. The onion soup was great. The steaks were very good. They do not have a clue how to cook a lobster. The food in the Lido, pretty much mirrored that served in the dining room. The breakfast in he Lido had anything you could want. The outside bar b q one night was not great. Could improve their pizza, but all the dishes in the Canaletto were good. Coffee is better than Princess, but still not great. Room service was prompt, but stick to cold items in the morning. Everything is cold in the morning from room service.
Very nice. Our ship was not full and so there was never a problem getting a chair and there were plenty of towels and bar service. Lots of places to sit if you did not want a deck chair. Very pleasant with the covered pool.
This was the source of the first and maybe the biggest problem we had on board. We were suppose to receive an on board credit and some wine and soda cards. They were not in the room and when I went to check on them, with my printed receipt, they said they had no record of any credit. Well I showed them the receipt and they said they would check. Next day they said I would get nothing. I said why? They said you can't combine things with the low airfare. I said why didn't you tell us? They said contact your travel agent. So I sent an email. Travel agent said they sent the paper work in and HA was crazy that the airfare had nothing to do with the amenity package. Well to make a long story short. It took 5 days and a transatlantic phone call before the problem was resolved. HA did NOTHING to help except to tell me I should have booked directly with HA and not use a travel agent. I pointed out that their rate was $400 pp more than my travel agent. They said well you get what you pay for! Just were not helpful at all! In dealing with minor things they were fine.
On Board Services
Internet is a joke. Because HA won't buy more band width, service can be very slow when a number of people are on. It took me 25 minutes to load the front page of the NY Times. Thank goodness it was on the free portion. Internet was pretty fast at 4 am. Can get wireless in your cabin sometimes. Just very unreliable. On board port "expert" was worthless. Could not tell us how much the hop on hop off bus was-- response to "is there an internet cafe near the ship?" Well they do have them in Spain! Lots of help. If she was not reading from her prepared script, she was worthless. Photographers were good, but $20 for a 5 x 7 was a bit high. But they did not pester you. On board cruise consultant was OK, not real deals, but not his fault. Limited hours.
Shopping on board was minimal. Make sure you take your own medications, because all they have is aspirin. Library was very nice and the Explorer's Lounge is a truly nice room. Again the ship is great, just not great service.
The worst I have ever seen. The singers and dancers could do neither and were saddled with really bad production numbers. The guest entertainers were better, with The Unexpected Boys really very good. But the on board entertainment was not even good. People just stopped going to the production shows. Otherwise the activities were very limited. Seldom was there more than one activity going on at a time and the daily schedule could have been Xeroxed. Nothing changed. Same thing very day at the same time. Often a time you could not figure out. They had a good program fro helping you with your photos and using your computer to store and enhance them. Held 3 pm while in port?? Or in the middle of the dinner hour?? Cruise director was a nice young man, but organization was not his strong point and he seemed to not have much help?? He hosted almost every event! No staff. This was a 18 day cruise and I can say that a lot of books were read-- nothing else to do. There was also no place on the ship to dance unless you liked to dance to progressive jazz. If you asked for a different kind of music you got a blank stare and then they made fun of your choice. The passengers on this ship were in the 50s to 70s and might appreciate a little slow dance music. Again just not good on passenger service.
Overall a very nice ship. Very clean. Good room service. Everything else was just adequate and you could see HA cutting corners. Most of the old time HA passengers I spoke with were not happy. It is too bad, because with a little better organization and little more emphasis on pleasing the passenger rather than the bottom line, HA could be great. But it is losing ground to Princess and RCCL and Celebrity and may go the way of Home Lines and Sitmar.