Five years is a long time to go without any kind of vacation. That's what my husband and I have to look forward to. Given this prospect, we decided on a final hurrah . . . going out with a bang, if you will. After much discussion with friends and travel agents, reading reviews and listening to referrals, we were confident that cruising with Holland America would be absolutely amazing. We were told that HAL receives the highest rating possible for vessels that aren't all suites. This sounded promising.
I've cruised with Carnival (underwhelming but really on par with HAL if the truth be told), Princess (very impressive), and Royal Caribbean (surprisingly extraordinary). I felt that HAL would be yet another step up. It was lateral, at best - even a step down, at worst.
Wanting to spoil ourselves, we booked a deluxe verandah suite, and it was on a back corner, so we had a balcony suitable for dance parties. Very huge. Absolutely loved that part. Enjoyed it every day. The bed was particularly comfortable, our room attendants were the best, the view incomparable, and the bathroom and closet space were impressive. But - the carpet was stained, curtains torn and stained, and furniture was crammed and was too much for the space allotted. These things aren't cruise busters at all, but for the price we paid, I want clean curtains, by golly! And I don't think carpet replacement is too much to ask, when it appears as though it's never been replaced. And I believe the Westerdam was refurbished only four years ago. Really? Hmmm.
Many reviews state, and the buzz out there is that the dEcor on HAL ships is "elegantly understated." I think better to say "definitely unplanned." Nothing matched. Some of the "art" and furniture was tacky and cheap. Many wallpaper tears, wall chips, mismatched decorations, etc. This isn't by any means future-cruise-prohibitive, but worth noting when there are many other cruise lines out there, that leave a much better aftertaste.
The Vista Dining Room and Pinnacle Grill offered superb dining and service. Apart from the wine attendant in the Vista. We don't drink alcohol, but it was still his task to get our soft drinks. He was slow, unpleasant, and somewhat reticent.
On the other hand, the Lido Buffet was really amateur. I hate to say it but I've had better cafeteria experiences on college campuses. The Lido was always overcrowded, never had enough seating, the drink waiters wouldn't wait on us, the food temperature was most certainly below health department regulations . . . had to be. The selection was great, but that's where the greatness ended. The counters were poorly set up, given the necessary traffic flow in and out of the dining room. More than one line would start and stop at the same counter and it was very confusing and the staff did not offer any guidance. We tried alternatives: Terrace Grill - burgers (snore) - very slow service. Poolside taco/nacho bar - seldom replenished - often out of plates and utensils. All that to say, breakfast and lunch options were lacking.
Photography was way overpriced and conducted by very young photographers who obviously were not terribly skilled in lighting or composition.
Entertainment was alright, but the seating was uncomfortable compared to all other cruise line theaters I've been in.
Staff direction and interest was simply non-existent when it came to embarkation and disembarkation. The worst of that being on initial embarkation in Seattle. People were wandering onto the ship like sheep and no one was telling them if staterooms were ready or if they needed to proceed to the Lido or where to find alternate elevators. That part was seriously unimpressive and offered a bad first impression.
In hindsight, the primarily outstanding elements of this trip were the ports of call, which had nothing to do with HAL. As far as HAL goes, the outstanding elements of the cruise itself were the big balcony, the bed, the bathroom, and the Vista Dining Room food and waiters.
By comparison, a previous cruise to Alaska was a far more pleasant experience on Princess. My Mexican Riviera cruise on Royal Caribbean was outstanding, and even Carnival's Mexican Riviera cruise at least had better dEcor, if nothing else more impressive than HAL. HAL would benefit greatly by exploring the Lido on Royal Caribbean, the service on Princess, and the refurbish rate of Carnival.
Will we cruise with HAL again? Hard to say. Would probably do it only if price point was more favorable. I seriously don't know what all the fuss is about. I think the three other lines I've cruised on beat HAL on various levels.