This was our 6th cruise, our second on Holland America: Zuiderdam (our first and most memorable), Princess Miracle (great corner room/deck and specialty restaurants), Crown princess (just too big, another ghetto of the seas); QMII - truly a letdown unless you are in First Class - we had one of those silly hull cutout balconies - we never left the pub!; and last year RCL Grandeur- great price for a suite, but otherwise mediocre and you pay for everything and they do not allow alcohol in the room. We decided to try HA again on a sister ship Westerdam. It was as even better then we remembered. Our cruise mates were veterans of 30 cruises. We had the best time.
First of all, the HA Philippine/Indonesian crew is still the friendliest and best trained for this level of cruising. Front desk, stewards, bars, buffet, and especially the dining rooms were equally professional; and they quickly got the names of their regulars. Far superior to any of the other lines that we have experienced
This particular cruise crowd was older - average age 65+ - almost no children at all (right before school break). And not a discouraging word ever. Many of the folks we spoke to were return HA guests and considered HA the last of the affordable old world cruise lines.
We always take a mini suite or equivalent so the price does not really differ much by cruise line. We got a very good price on a three-day sale for a Superior Veranda guaranteed cabin which, two days before the cruise, was upgraded two notches to an amidships cabin; a lovely room.
At every turn we were reminded what made our first cruise experience so wonderful on HA. There were many little things that make HA a better deal: Embarkation and disembarkation was a breeze and pleasant; free cappuccino or espresso after dinner; free ice cream and gourmet cookies at Lido; you can order and keep alcohol in the room, which was very reasonable (quart of gin and three cans of tonic - $30); very accessible Internet (even in our room); cappuccino at the coffee bar was $2; you can order breakfast room service off the dining room menu - including Eggs Benedict; otherwise the general room service menu was really good; they get great h'ors doeuvres for the room for a cocktail party; intelligent handling of smoking, NY Times news summary every day (also, NY Times was one of the free Internet sites); great catalogue of DVDs for the room(also, the TV had a really good selection of current free movies); no signing for any tab less than $50 - you never have that uncomfortable tip issue every time you get a drink; the soda card is just a 50% debit card that can be used for anyone with a credit on your bill for the unused portion; there was plenty to do during the day; Formal dining was about 50% tux, but the buffet was upgraded for those who did not wish to partake; everyone liked the cruise director; 11% tipping on final bill; Duty Free had a pricing guaranteed on alcohol and tobacco against prices in port; there were no lines for the many elevators.
Food - Buffet - better than typical buffet with hamburgers, hot dogs, pizza, and Mexican always; buffet food was served by the crew to minimize health issues. Main dining room - best appointed dining room on any of the ships that we have experienced, with comfortable armchairs, flowers, and better tableware (on QMII the ambience was more like a cheap English catering hall). HA has the best dining room food and choices, as well the best service (RCL the worst) in our experience. The dining room allows open and preset dining to suit any needs. Le Cirque - this special meal was worth the price. The specialty steak house was great, but even the steaks were perfect. I usually won't get lobster tails but they were tender and juicy on this cruise. Lamb, veal, and halibut were perfectly prepared and always with interesting sides.
The shows - very talented performers, but with weird material, especially for this crowd.
After our previous cruise on RCL, this was a dream cruise for less money. There is just no comparison.
We will wait for the sales and book HA again.