I have not sailed on Holland America before. It is a much larger ship than I am used to, but quite manageable in a short period of time.
I will not discuss the port cities in this review, although they were wonderful. I will save those comments for individual reviews.
We had three nights in Quebec City at the Auberge St. Antoine which was a delight. We took the 2 and 1/2 hour carriage ride of the city and I highly recommend the tour.
The hotel staff delivered us to the ship expertly avoiding the crowds and the traffic that congregated in the port area.
We were in our cabin within 45 minutes, but only after I made several inquiries regarding our priority suite boarding status which, once recognized made the check in process much easier.
Our "Deluxe Suite" was quite spacious, but did not measure up to Regent's suites in cleanliness and pristine appearance.
We were offered an upgrade from the Veranda Suite three days before sailing, which we took and were happy with our decision.
One of the reviewers was upset that the large leather sofa was sitting at a slant and the bedcovers were visible in rear cushion area--quite unsightly. Ours was the same. I will add that the room stewards did not seem to understand the problem and were unwilling to make any attempt to correct it. It bothered me so much (since it affected the seating comfort of the sofa)that I opened the sofa bed, flipped and re-positioned the mattress, and then replaced the cushions. That seemed to do the trick and was not a bother for the rest of our stay.
The veranda was very large, with two chairs w/footrests and a table for four. It was never cleaned or wiped down during the entire trip.
Was the extra charge for the suite worth it to us?
Yes, I believe so. Having said that, if cost is of prime consideration, I believe a wonderful cruise could be accomplished without the added charge of a suite.
The extras that are offered to suite guests that I found useful are:
1. The Neptune Lounge was a nice touch, but I certainly do not look forward to sitting in an inside space when the ocean views were so wonderful. It was nice to be able to have tea or coffee at a whim, and the availability of the concierge was worthwhile if you needed to change a reservation, etc. However, I did not use the service very often
2. The Pinnacle Grille for breakfast (the only fresh orange juice on the ship). In other reviews of this perk, passengers were not happy with the speed of service in the Pinnacle. I found that--hands down--the Pinnacle had the most pleasant wait staff, the most appealing decor, the best food and the most welcoming ambiance that we encountered on the ship. We booked three nights at the Pinnacle (one was LeCirque), and the steak matched meals that I've had in the finest restaurants.
The Tamarind was also quite pleasant and on par with the Pinnacle, but they do not have breakfast service.
3. The priority suite status that allowed you to board the tenders at will (without a tender ticket), promised ease of embarkations and disembarkation (more of that later), complimentary laundry service, crew luncheons and cocktail parties, etc.
The crew usually quickly recognized the priority status from the color of the room key and kept a very low profile, so that you did not feel that your were "pulling rank", which could potentially put you in an embarrassing situation.
We only ate at the Lido once and I was not impressed. One complete side was closed for two hours to service the crew, causing quite a back up on the side open to passengers.
The food and service (lunch and dinner)in the Rembrandt Dining Room was quite good with a varied selection. The room is lovely and the waiters want so much to please.
We had open seating and never waited for a table. Of course, we were very open to sharing a table with other guests which was one of the highlights of the cruise.
However, the tea,(regular, Dutch, and High)left much to be desired. The tables were crammed together in one small space of the dining room and the sweets did not match up on any level to a lovely English tea. Would that affect my decision to book Holland America in the future--certainly not!
We enjoyed the Terrace Grill very much. The salmon burger (not a burger at all, but a nice piece of salmon) was outstanding as was the beef burger. It did take some time, as the food is prepared to order, but worth the wait.
On the first night, we went to the Cannelato which we booked as soon as we boarded the ship.(Italian food--no charge) Although it gets bad reviews on this site, I thoroughly enjoyed it for dinner (no lunch) and recommend it as a "must do". Most of the passengers think that, because you must book a reservation, it is an extra charge. I spoke to many passengers who did not know it was an option for them.
The Pizza area--Slice--was of the frozen variety. Not worth the calories.
We purchased a soft drink beverage card before sailing ($25 for $50 worth of soft drinks). My travel agent also sent us a beverage card as a gift and, of course, we failed to use even half of the purchased cards. What a surprise when my final bill credited the remaining amount on my itemized statement! That was really above what I expected and well appreciated.
The entertainment in the Main Stage area was very good and we enjoyed it thoroughly.
One of our favorites side venues was the Queen's Lounge when Jenny and the Halcats were performing. It was not very well attended, but Jenny has a wonderful voice and the Halcats are a wonderfully versatile band.
If the ship has any problem, it seems to be a communications barrier. Many of the events--Sailing Barbecue, Chocolate night, Taco stand, Canneletto Restaurant, Tamarind free lunch, etc. are not well attended simply because the passengers have not been properly informed.
Disembarking in Fort Lauderdale was chaotic. Even though technically I could disembark at will, I complied when they asked us to wait until our color was called. I waited for at least one hour, and quickly saw that the color system was not being honored by anyone and finally just got off the ship to a nightmare scene in the port. After obtaining a porter and locating my bags (with great difficulty), I waited in a customs line for at least 15 minutes. If it wasn't for the porter's expertise, I'm not sure that I could have navigated through the sea of humanity in any reasonable amount of time. Those porters are worth their weight in gold and I tipped him accordingly!
This was only my fifth cruise, but it was certainly the worst disembarking experience by far.
The cruise was, overall, lovely and Holland America really tried very hard to make the experience special. Because of their capable crew and pre-planning, my experience and enjoyment of the port cities--both docking and tendering--was perfect. I would cruise on them again, but I really do prefer a smaller ship.