Maybe you're under 40 and wondering how much you might enjoy a cruise on Holland America. Perhaps you've gotten the vibe that Holland attracts an older crowd and you're wondering if you'd fit in, or, like us, you've been frustrated in your efforts to find reviews that address the cruising matters most important to you. We hope that our review helps to fill in some of the gaps and gives you a better notion of Holland's suitability for your vacationing needs.
A brief bit about us: we're a couple living in New York City, we love tasty food and can appreciate both street food and fine dining, we're both a little introverted and we really enjoy learning about the places we visit in some depth. One of us had been on a cruise once before with a cruise line marketed more to young people and was very turned off by all the booze-cruise activities, poor food in the formal dining room, and the uninspired shore excursions offered. We wanted this cruise to be relaxing but intellectually interesting, to visit ports that were more off the beaten path, and to enjoy our time on the boat as much as we enjoyed our time on the shore.
Holland truly met and exceeded all our expectations. Much has been said in other reviews about the friendliness and efficiency of the staff so we'll add just a few brief examples. We visited a bar on board the ship on the first and last night of the cruise and to our amazement, the staff remembered our names and what we had ordered on the first night! We had some confusion about dessert wine in the main dining room and our dining room captain insisted on giving us a full bottle of wine to make up for the error. One of us was feeling a little nauseous on the evening we were scheduled to eat in the Pinnacle Grill and the staff kindly brought us a variety of remedies (hot tea, cut up apples, crackers) until we found one that was helpful.
The food was really spectacular. We enjoyed completely different menu offerings every day, we loved the portion sizes (not so enormous that you couldn't have something from every course but not tiny by any means) and the inventive cooking. There were Paris Brest pastries at lunch, lemongrass scented soups at dinner and omelettes with exotic peppers for breakfast (and let's not forget the special snacks and treats in between like a full Indonesian tea service and the perfectly ripe fruit left daily in the room). This is our vegetarian friend's favorite cruise line because such attention is given to the green stuff but we heard many a meat-eater groan happily about their steaks and chops. We also loved the inexpensive and gourmet daily educational tastings (port and blue cheese, carbernet and rare beef) and the late night focus on one particular specialty: we advise you not to miss the chocolate extravaganza!
Other cruisers have made little mention of the gym and spa; let us assure you that the gym is one of the nicest and most complete we've ever seen with plenty of brand new cardio and weight machines looking out over beautiful views of the water. The daily roster of activities is thoughtful (tai chi on the deck at daybreak and sunset, etc) and exercise classes are plentiful and easy to sign up for. We both feel that the massages we received were among the best we've ever had.
Now, let's talk entertainment for a moment as this is the area that someone under 40 is most likely to feel is aimed at a different demographic. We were charmed by the couples in lounges dancing the foxtrot to tunes from decades ago and although we skipped all but one of the big nightly shows, we didn't mind that most of the jokes were most relevant to the silver-haired in the audience. If you're looking for a trendy, hip, club sort of atmosphere for your evenings, this may not be the cruise for you. If though you'd enjoy evenings strolling on the deck, browsing the books or playing the games in the extensive and smartly stocked ship's library, or chatting over excellent drinks and watching the sea roll by, you'll have a lovely time.
What else did we love on the ship? We loved returning to find that the next day's itinerary with all relevant tickets and instructions had been left for us, complete with a condensed copy of the NY Times. We loved the crisp captain's announcements and sitting on our private deck (definitely worth the extra money) early in the morning as we came into the next port. And of course, we always looked forward to our staff-created towel animal each evening.
Off the ship, we had opted for more physically vigorous offerings at each of the ports and we'll go into less detail here as these excursions have been well described by other reviewers. There were a truly impressive number of options at each port to suit a variety of interests and activity levels and we had trouble choosing among them! Kayaking in Key West was wonderful thanks to a guide trained in botany who was genuinely interested in conveying her knowledge about the surrounding flora and fauna. Due to our own error, we missed the bus for the zip-lining in Belize but appreciated the thoughtful city tour of the former capital now in decay and the air boat tour through stunning wetlands arranged for us by Holland staff at the last minute. In Roatan, we visited a butterfly conservatory and were hosted by its passionate caretaker and in Mexico, we visited the Chacchoben Mayan ruins and were guided by an equally passionate guide invested in his own Mayan roots. All our activities had clearly been carefully vetted and we truly felt we were getting the best version possible of each of our activities.
Of course, no vacation is perfect and we were annoyed by a button crushed by the in-house shirt pressing service and the ratty spa robes. We were also a bit frustrated by the multiple efforts it took to get a broken dvd player replaced which required us to place multiple calls over the course of several days.
These minor annoyances aside, Holland America provided us with a truly wonderful vacation. We felt cared for but not fussed over and we returned relaxed and truly well rested. We plan to travel with Holland again in October to Europe and the Mediterranean and we are excited to once again take our place among the silver haired!