Let's start with the feedback form, passed out on the next-to-last day of the cruise. The purpose of such a process should be "Please tell us what we can do better to make for an improved cruise experience for our future customers." But when the cruise director instructed people how to complete the form he made it quite clear that he expected to receive 9's (the highest score) in all areas. In effect, he said "Anything less than a 9 represents a failure." On the surface this seems to represent great pride on his part and that of the company. But the net effect is to say "Please tell us how wonderful we are so that we don't have to change anything." The 1 to 9 scale becomes completely distorted and meaningless. The ship and it's personnel receive high scores for their performance but nothing changes for future passengers.
Let me emphasize that this problem is not unique to HAL. A recent experience with NCL was the same—-the feedback form is a superficial gesture towards improving cruising but shows no real desire to do so.
Let me take a specific example of something that can be improved but—-strangely enough--there was no place on the form to put it. The problems noted are nowhere near as harmful to the cruising experience as some I've seen noted by other critics but they are symbolic of how management tends to sweep little problems under the rug rather than make any meaningful changes.
The in-cabin TV system was awful. For starters, the remote control only worked if you stood up to use it. (That was the only way to have a line-of-sight contact with the TV in my room). I'm no lazier than the next man but if I'm given a remote control I expect to be able to operate it while lying in bed.
The content of the system was just as deficient. Two things I ask of an in-cabin system is to be able to see the correct time when I want and to know what is on each channel. I could only get the time about every ten minutes or so and to find out what movies or shows were playing was difficult to impossible.
The reports from the bridge were good regarding the ship's position, course, etc. But much of the content of that channel (#40) was phony. I didn't ask for a system that provides the sunrise and sunset times for each day but it did seem like a nice feature to have. The problem was that the times never changed. Sunrise was always 7:05 and sunset was always 6:42, times that were as much as an hour off at some points in the trip. Similarly, I was impressed that the system would always be able to tell me the temperature of each Jacuzzi. Neat idea! Except that these never changed either, showing a temperature of 102.2F even when the Jacuzzis had been emptied! As a result of seeing all these inaccuracies, I could only pray that the navigation information was accurate and the captain really knew where we were. The point here is simple. Providing no information is better than providing inaccurate information.
I was not impressed with the food on the Zaandam. In common with many cruise lines, I wish they would reduce the size of the menu and use the savings to upgrade the quality of the food. Taking a common cut of meat and giving it a fancy European name is like putting lipstick on a pig. Just give me some good, tasty food!
To be fair to HAL and the Zaandam, there were many things about this cruise that were exemplary. The ship is well laid out (except for the level four entrance to the Rotterdam dining room). The staterooms are well planned. The maintenance of the public areas of the ship is very good and the crew is friendly, competent and has a great "team spirit." Embarkation and disembarkation were well planned and well executed. The overall plan for dining was good and had the right degree of flexibility. There were plenty of onboard activities and coffee was always available for us "early risers."
Overall this was a pleasant cruise but I wish the management at HAL and the other cruise lines would become more responsive to customer concerns. Many of the problems I've seen cited in CC reviews are easy to fix and would improve the cruising experience of future customers. Management should listen to customer complaints rather than either their meaningless evaluation form data or only those complaints that rise to the level of asking for a refund or other redress. A good company doesn't try to substitute pizzazz for real quality and responsiveness to customer concerns.