I was looking forward to my trip from Sydney to the South Pacific islands and then up to Singapore via Indonesia. The cruise ran over Christmas and New Year but we hardly noticed those events, so little effort having been made by the company to make those days extra special. Christmas was really flat - the only change to the dining was that a fancy piece of ribbon was placed across each table and the menus for lunch and dinner was just like the usual menus. They did make a little more effort at new year and there were various events at different venues on board to see the new year in but no special entertainers were booked. We just had the usual Zandaam singers and dancers (who were dire and who seemed to think volume was everything).
My cabin was the first disappointment. On boarding at Sydney at 2 pm the cabin was still occupied and had not been cleaned. The departing passenger was being moved out of the room as I went to occupy my cabin to unpack. However, I had to wait for the steward to clean it and when I returned the cabin was very unpleasant, it stank! I asked for it to be cleaned again and even then, it stank! It took at least a week with the air conditioning running and lots of water running through the shower to finally clear the air. In the meantime I had been to the front desk and they told me I had been upgraded and, in any case, the ship was full so there was no other cabin available. In addition to the stink in the cabin I discovered it was designed for a wheelchair user and did not have all the facilities I would have had in the guaranteed MM grade and this was supposedly an upgrade to category L. It was shabby as well as dirty and there was no where to sit to read or watch TV except on the bed. The bathrobes were rags - I asked the steward if they were clean and he said they had just come from the laundry but got me another one - it was still a tatty old rag. How I wanted to be "downgraded" to the better cabin that I had been expecting!
The tours were a bit of a rip off but something we have come to expect with cruise lines. The most disappointing of all was at Komodo Island where we booked for a tour of "approximately 2 1/2 hours" and what we got was approximately 1 hour. Yes, we did see dragons but very little of the island and we were not permitted to go off under our own steam without a pre-booked ranger.
The entertainment was poor all the way through, particularly as it was the so-called festive season. We had comedians who weren't funny; one unfortunate chap who came on board 2 days after the previous one left was telling the same cruise related jokes that we had heard 2 days before. He was becoming rather peevish when he barely raised a titter from the audience; not surprising really.
In the first two weeks of the cruise there were lots of Australian school students on board and a certain amount of bad behaviour around the pools. The bar staff in each case were supposed to supervise things but were doing nothing. When I complained at the front desk they were as unhelpful as previously when I went to them about my cabin. In general they were unhelpful and really didn't want to know about problems.
I paid a lot more than many other travellers because I was travelling alone but in spite of this I think I and fellow lone travellers are treated as 2nd class passengers. Because of the chaos around my cabin when I boarded and the fact that the daily programme was not delivered to my cabin I missed out on various events such as being able to join other single travellers for lunch on the first day. It was only when I went to the front desk to acquire a copy later that I discovered what was on the programme. The seating arrangements in the dining room didn't make it any easier to meet other people travelling alone.
The port lectures were unbelievably amateurish. The talks were run by a man who claimed to have been educated at universities on several continents and also claimed to be well travelled. Well, he appeared to be reading from notes cobbled together (from the internet?) and were poorly presented alongside the photographs he got "from a friend" and which were of too low resolution to be shown on a large screen, consequently they were rather blurry. The leaflet we were given prior to each port produced by HAL was much more informative. So much for enrichment.
The foregoing are just the main "highlights" from the cruise and there were a lot more points that I raised in my letter to HAL. Overall the cruise was a tremendous disappointment and I won't be travelling with Holland America again.
Holland America, particularly with the Zaandam, seems to be living on their past reputation but standards seem to have slipped drastically. The reason I booked on this cruise was because of the reputation they previously had and seemed to have a lot of positive reviews on this site and others.