First of all, we booked this cruise for relaxation and the fact that we did not have to fly. Now for the nitty gritty.
We returned late yesterday, and I do mean late, from our cruise to the Southern Caribbean which was round trip out of Norfolk. What a disaster!! What has happened to Holland America? And I am not referring to the broken engine exclusively, although that made it truly what many passengers were calling "The Cruise from Hell."
First of all, the new idea of deducting $10 per person per day instead of allowing tipping of our own individual servers is a disaster. This rewards those whose service is not up to par at the same rate as those who proffer excellent service. And there are some of each. We were lucky in our cabin steward, Yardo (cabin #634) and our waiter, Oscar (table #143, early dining.) Others were not so lucky. The service up in the Lido was spotty, with some excellent attendants and some who stood around and did nothing.
You used to have excellent menus on HAL ships. I have the menus because they used to give a set to every woman on board. In those days HAL was proud of its menus.
On the Caribbean Seafarer Cruise that sailed from Fort Lauderdale on December 13, 1997, the Bon Voyage Dinner (the first night) included the following items: Appetizers- Orange and Strawberry Cocktail, Smoked Brook Trout Fillet, Grilled Vegetable Terrine, Prosciutto Ham with Melon Fan, and Deep Fried Herbed Crusted Brie and Jumbo Onion Ring. Soups- Essence of Seafood with Saffron, Cream of White Mushroom, and Chilled Pineapple Soup with Cinnamon. Salads- Arugula and Spinach with Enoki Mushroom, and Wedge of Boston Butter Lettuce. Entrees- Pan Roasted Gulf Snapper with a Warm Pineapple and Tomato Relish, Grilled New York Sirloin Steak, Roasted Center Porkloin Stuffed with Fios, Sauteed Aromatic chicken Breast, Roasted Eggplant Ravioli, and Penne Primavera. Desserts were not included in our menus. But you can see that this is a far cry from your "comfort foods" of today such as pot roast and meat loaf. Are you sure this is still Holland America?
I will admit the food is good. But the menu selection is abominable. And it isn't due to the opening of the Pinnacle, since their menu did not reflect what we used to enjoy on HAL ships.
The cabins, of course, are indeed comfortable, but HAL isn't changing the sheets as frequently as they once did. Why not?
As far as daily activities are concerned, I am sorry to say that other than watching a movie in the Wajang Theater, there was nothing to do. HAL took away the Social Hostess and all the wonderful activities she used to run. Yes, we liked the scarf tying and the napkin folding. But even more we missed the Art Tour of the ship, which was wonderful. We also used to enjoy the morning question and answer sessions with the entertainers that was conducted by the Social Hostess. I remember Denize Mobit doing a marvelous talk on coffees, and Susan Michaels running a hilarious Jokers Beer Bash as well as a discussion about table d'hote place settings. Why have these activities disappeared?
We also used to enjoy sitting in the deck chairs on Lower Promenade Deck. It was very relaxing and quiet compared to the Lido pool area. Why are only about a third of the chairs there provided with pads? The others were left bare. It was very uncomfortable sitting on the wooden chairs without the pads.
We had a lecturer on board who was really not very good. Unfortunately he was the type of lecturer who read directly from his notes with an expressionless voice. When we went to the second lecture he gave there were only three people in the entire Rembrandt Lounge. We walked out. We were just too embarrassed to stay.
The evening entertainment left a lot to be desired. The guest artists other than the first two nights were not very good. The very talented Maasdam cast of singers and dancers were working with horrible material. Except for the last show "Romance on Broadway" the shows were frenetic, the singing was shouting, the songs were unrecognizable as well as unable to be understood. What a disappointment! Furthermore, there were no classical music concerts like those HAL has had in the past by artists such as Hannah Staroska. Yes, the Explorers' Lounge did have the Champaign Strings, but that was the only group to offer classical music at all. The Ocean Bar music was at least recognizable and danceable.
HAL used to have a magnificent chocolate buffet in the Explorers' Lounge every evening. Now, they offer a small plate of only one or two selections. Is this Holland America? Not the line I know.
Furthermore, in the dining room, when a passenger at a neighboring table wanted shrimp cocktail one evening, the waiter asked for her cruise card so he could charge her room for it. Is HAL kidding about this? That is unheard of.
Now, we get to the part that resulted from the broken engine. We arrived so late in St. Thomas and were forced to anchor in the outer anchorage. Even with two tenders borrowed from the Zaandam our tender wasn't called until 3:30 p.m. By then it didn't pay to go ashore for the short time available. And we had wanted to go to Coral World this trip. From then on the trip went downhill fast. Everyone was complaining about cancelled shore excursions and ruined plans.
Then, when we heard that the arrival would be late, we had trouble trying to contact home to let people know about the situation. Phone calls wouldn't go through. I tried FAXing and that wouldn't go through either. I tried to get some compensation for having to stay overnight in Norfolk again because I don't drive at night and I had about 200 miles to go. I was ignored and told only those with booked flights would be accommodated and only at the Airport Marriott. We were on the cruise package at the Radisson Norfolk.
Now, the final indignity of all- we booked this cruise last January. We thought we got a fairly decent rate. Then, after the cancellation grace period was over, we got an offer from HAL for this cruise at a ridiculously low rate. My agent called the special phone number provided and was told that all we could get was an upgrade, unless we wanted to pay the cancellation fee and rebook (which would have been ridiculous). And to whom did HAL market this cruise? I have never seen a collection of people on Holland America like this. From the hillbillies to the tattooed lady (from her neck to her ankles) to the wild children running around the ship to the bare feet in the Lido Cafe along with the wet bathing suits to the people who showed up for dinner on a formal night in shorts and tank tops (and they were permitted in the dining room). The entire cast of characters made us feel as if we were on the Jerry Springer Show. Never again.
Holland America has lost me as a customer.