Between my wife and I we have done 19 cruises on 5 different cruise lines, we are both full time travel agents so we have, through our training, developed a set of standards we look for. This was the second time on Holland American for us, with our first being on the Oosterdam last year. In many ways I like what Holland does but The Amsterdam has a few glitches.
Before we get into the cruise a few pre cruise and post cruise comments as a traveler. We opted to go to Seattle a day early and made our own air reservations with Alaska Air, interestingly enough overall their fare was over $250.00 less than Southwest even after figuring the cost of baggage. We arrived at SEA-TAC and had made reservations with the Quality In Downtown Seattle for the overnight and transportation, for a fee, from the airport. The driver from Quality WAS NOT helpful in directing us to the proper pick up location and we spent what was probably two frustrating hours trying to find the pick up location. SEA-TAC, in my opinion is not well marked. When we FINALLY got to the hotel, I filed a complaint with the duty manager and she did discount the transfer fee. The hotel was in general pretty nice, but the desk clerk marked the wrong room number on our key holder and that caused additional frustration and delay in getting settled. We had thoughts of possibly doing some sightseeing, BUT that was now long gone. The next morning transportation was available to the pier and no problems.
Now to the cruise: Check in went smoothly and I was informed about an alternate door to avoid the embarkation picture, mainly because I do have some mobility issues and the alternate route was shorter. Our stateroom, ocean view, was neat, of course as usual we had to ask to have the bed separated even though we had specified separate in the reservation.
After dropping off our bags it was on to the dining room for lunch, a Mariner feature on embarkation. This was the best service we had in the dining room, more on that later. After walking around the ship and the safety drill, we had a few minutes to relax before having dinner in the Pinnacle Grill. The food and service there was excellent!
The first morning we had breakfast with some friends in the dining room, the service was OK, as I ordered Eggs Benedict and they arrived in a timely manner. This was the LAST good service in the Dining room. Day 2, I ordered an omelet it took over 1 hour to arrive, day 3 I ordered pancakes and they arrived cold after 45 minutes. The dining room was NOT busy so I could not find a valid excuse. By lunch time I was ready to go to the Lido Buffet, I found that the hot service line was understaffed, and I vented my frustrations to the supervisor Phillipe. After lunch I went to the internet cafe and sent of a e mail to Holland American detailing the poor quality of service in the dining room and lack of servers. I guess that must have raised a few eyebrows in Seattle as during the remainder of the cruise I met many of the managers, chefs, and the Hotel Manager. Sometimes the squeaky wheel gets the most grease, from then on we ate mainly in the Lido buffet and staff was calling us by name. There were several outstanding servers there including Wede, and Harrisman, the servers behind the counter were always smiling and I must rate the food in the Lido as VERY GOOD.
On formal nights, (I call it dinosaur picture night) we ate in the Canaletto three times and the food and service was excellent. This is a well kept secret on Holland no extra cost and a good, but somewhat limited, menu. I HATE PACKING FORMAL CLOTHES and hate wearing them even more!
We had one other experience in the main dining room, that was the Chefs Dinner, in my estimation a HUGE disappointment, with my wife and I going up to the Lido afterwords for some real food. I had a 5 minute steak in the Lido that was FAR BETTER than the beef offered in the chefs dinner.
The ship in general was in excellent condition I saw lots of cleaning painting, etc going on during the 14 day cruise and for the most part I felt the crew was very good and even friendly. Cruise Director Jimmy was very nice and not over the top like many I have seen, he did actually seem to enjoy what he was doing and was NOT overbearing. The production shows were good, it is a challenge on a smaller ship without all the extra capabilities that the bigger ship stages offer. I felt that the singers and dancers were talented and their shows were good. I do like the layout of the theater and the seating much better on Holland than on most other cruise lines. I had the opportunity to talk with the audio teck one evening and told him I felt he did a great job and the sounds was clear and not over driven. One person from the crew that seemed to have an attitude was the DJ, who hosted trivia several times, it was more of a feeling than anything seen. I found the naturalist/shore expert, Jeanette, to be just plain annoying! She is a former teacher and anytime she hosted trivia, she never used a mic and her voice quality worsened with her increased volume. She also did not have accurate information on transportation which cost us the opportunity to get off the ship in Kodiak.
We did not opt for any shore excursion through Holland America as is the case with "rain forests” Alaska's weather can be fickle and so we chose to do a few things on our own. Since both Holland American and Princess cover a lot of the same ports I was surprised at how poor the gangways were in several of the ports. Many were extremely steep, in the case of Homer there was a very long pier with no shuttle and no benches, this needs improvement.
One of the highlights of the trip was stopping at Sitka, we took a tour to the Fortress Of The Bear and this was a great experience. This facility is a rescue center and they currently have 2 adults and 3 large cubs, they were quite active when we were there and the founder, who gave a talk about the bears and the center was quite informative.
I had been looking forward to going to Victoria, but the information we received was that transportation had to be paid for in Canadian money so we did not get off the ship there either.
Disembarkation was a breeze as we took advantage of the baggage check through, I really like this and it is well worth the $20 per bag fee not to have to lug your checked luggage around post cruise.
On a whole the cruise was good, I gave it a 7 and my wife gave it an 8 out of a possible 10. The Amsterdam needs to improve their dining room operation, pressure Alaska for better gangway facilities and get some more activities on board on sea days and especially on port days. They also need to have much better information about transportation at the ports to eliminate disappointments.
Will I take Holland American again, most certainly, however I am pretty sure it won't be the Amsterdam.