A one week HAL Alaska cruise was our introduction to cruising. It was great! Yes, inclement weather forced cancellation of several excursions, but we had a wonderful time. Much of the scenery reminded us of our PNW home, but we still had a wonderful time.
Several years later we booked a two week Panama Canal cruise on Celebrity. They offered a better rate and we were not disappointed by an aspect of that trip.
Ready for an extended Caribbean cruise, we checked itineraries, prices, and reviews and decided to return to Holland America. The itinerary was great and the boat appeared to be well maintained. But from disembarkation on, most things seemed a little lacking: lower energy, less friendly, more hurried. Food was acceptable, but generally not wonderful. Several entrees were VERY poor: overcooked fish and veal, lukewarm steak and vegetables. Our dining steward was a very nice person, but either poorly trained and forgetful and overworked. The original seating for our group of four was at a table for six right next to the servers' station. The new assignment was in a far corner, again by the servers' station. Our dining 'entertainment' included a birds-eye view of the staff's work: sorting entrees, clearing dishes, cleaning and sorting silverware. We spoke to the staff about the pace of our meal [originally too rushed] and then it was sooooo slow we were regularly late to the evening's entertainment. The continued errors became comical as it became easier to laugh than continually complain.
Generally enjoy the tea opportunities and dessert extravaganzas, but here too, on this cruise - things were lacking. Mediocre food, presentation, and service. Caribbean barbecue ran out of fish and staff was complacent when advised.
The use of the culinary center was disappointing and mediocre. Only one demonstration included a tasting. Many others were very simple and amateurish. The party planner offered only simple rote comments and her other activities reflected her lack of knowledge and experience. Multiple wine trivia events also became laughable as she regularly mispronounced the name of virtually every wine!
Shore Excursions generally met our expectations. River-tubing on Dominica was wonderful. The 4X4 beach and island tour on Barbados was well done. Our historic guide on St. Thomas seemed to have been trained by the military. Lining by correctly and boarding the bus on time seemed his highest priority. He offered little description of the sites and thankfully it was a short itinerary and we were quickly on our own. HAL did the island of Martinque a disservice. A Sunday stop, we were regularly informed that NOTHING would be open and shore excursions were limited. One began to wonder why this port was included. Local staff from the tourism office answered questions on the dock and we were sent by them to a wonderful 90 music and dance performance which we followed with a visit to the main church, pastries from a street vendor, and lunch at a wonderful 'French' Caribbean site with outdoor dining. HAL staff should be embarrassed to have recommended McDonald's!
Weather preempted several things, including any activity at Half Moon Cay.
Entertainment generally was mediocre. We too wondered about the dance choreography - was it designed to show off the moving stage parts? The HAL band had low energy and was not engaging. The Piano Bar was enjoyable but as a group that dined at the late seating and took in the late show, it did not fit into our day - a competing cruise line had two 'sets' at the piano bar which was great. Wonderful spot for a pre-dinner drink. Consider it HAL!
We generally travel independently and this experience leaves us wondering if we will cruise again - and if so, would we book with Holland America. Although we are on the young side of the typical HAL passenger, we appreciated the class, style, and decorum on our first cruise. We are not looking for a PARTY boat, but a re-commitment to first class service, entertainment, and food is needed on Holland America.