We always take a New Years cruise with friends, but the way the holidays worked out on the calendar this year left us with few ideal options for travel. We initially chose this particular cruise because it was the right length (7 days), ... Read More
We always take a New Years cruise with friends, but the way the holidays worked out on the calendar this year left us with few ideal options for travel. We initially chose this particular cruise because it was the right length (7 days), left mid-week, long enough after Christmas and several days prior to New Years Eve, and it got back in enough time for everyone to get back to school.
OVERVIEW (PLEASE READ THIS SECTION, EVEN IF YOU READ NOTHING ELSE BELOW)
Having cruised on several different cruise lines 25+ times prior to this trip, we were fully aware that Holland America Line caters to an older clientele. We also knew the basics of what to expect in terms of onboard amenities, service and entertainment. We chose to book this sailing for three main reasons:
1. The dates were ideal for us.
2. This is a brand new ship.
3. It was a holiday sailing, which we figured would skew younger.
If you're looking for an experience akin to what you'd find on Royal Caribbean, Carnival, Norwegian or Princess (or similar), look elsewhere. This is NOT the cruise line for you. Activities were mostly boring and repetitive, and we walked out on several we chose to attend. We often found ourselves walking around looking for something to do, which has never been our experience on any cruise ship before. More on activities later.
We do not have unrealistic expectations with service, and in fact we're happy to acknowledge and accept that sometimes things don't go perfectly according to plan. It's how it's handled when things go sideways that the service is really put to the test. That said, the service onboard ranged anywhere from lackluster to awful. Certain people in high-profile service positions were downright rude, snarky and unhelpful. Specifics below.
We were never asked about buying an inclusive drink package or upgrading to a paid dining option, which was a welcome change to other cruises we've taken.
Aside from the rainy weather, embarkation was a breeze. Check-in lines were managed well and moved smoothly. The check-in agent was friendly, efficient and helpful. Our cabins were ready when we boarded, which was a nice change of pace.
This ship is exquisite! We've never sailed on a ship so beautifully appointed. You name it -
the tasteful flooring, the welcoming and comfortable furniture, the interesting artwork on the walls, and the variety of gorgeous light fixtures - it all made us feel like we were traveling in affluent style. The layout is easy to navigate, and there's plenty of well-designed signage to help point you in the direction you want to go.
We had an interior cabin. Aside from being as beautifully appointed as the rest of the ship, the cabin was especially roomy with plenty of storage. In fact, there was so much storage space that some drawers and cabinets went unused. That was a first.
The in-room entertainment is spectacular. Dozens of first-run movies are available on demand on a large new flat-screen TV. Live TV includes CNBC, MSNBC, FOX News, ESPN and ESPN2.
I'm convinced that the cabins onboard the Koningsdam feature the nicest bathrooms at sea. The designers traded industrial molded composite flooring for attractive black tile, and the sink and countertop were a tasteful white stone. But the real difference was the shower. Rather than a tiny shower enclosure tucked into the corner of the bathroom, the shower was a full rectangular stall with a glass door. No more soaping the walls and spinning. The rain shower head was a nice addition. The only thing that seemed out of place was the shampoo/conditioner/body wash dispenser attached to the wall. The Koningsdam seems like a higher class offering than that, but it's just a minor point. We were very happy with the accommodations.
One minor issue was the electronic key reader attached to the door of one of our cabins. The black cover fell off every single time we opened the door. Not a critical issue, but an annoyance, especially on a ship so new.
Overall, no matter where we ate, the food itself was terrific. We did not book meals at any of the pay-extra restaurants. The variety of options was satisfactory, and whatever we ordered was flavorful and attractively presented. Dinners were either in the dining room or at the buffet.
Unfortunately, aside from the food quality, the dining experience left much to be desired. We were two families traveling together and our 8:00 PM dining reservations were not linked (as they were supposed to be) when we boarded. We paid a visit to the dining room to sort it out, and after some back-and-forth with the maitre 'd, we settled on two adjacent tables of four. Not ideal, but an acceptable resolution given the circumstances.
One particular standout was the Dive-In burger bar on the lido deck. When you place your order, they give you a buzzer and page you when it's ready. The burgers were fantastic and the Nathan's hot dogs were delicious, but the real star of this show were the french fries. I wish I could find french fries like that on land! The biggest issue is that this dining option closes at 6:00 PM. Again, what's up with the hours they keep on this ship?
The main issues were as follows:
- After a day in port we opted to dine at the buffet instead of the dining room. Thus, we made a plan to meet at our regular time (8:00 PM) at the buffet. The only problem? The buffet inexplicably closes at 8:00 PM! Seriously. There is no acceptable reason why the buffet shouldn't be an alternative option to dining in the dining room. The buffet should be open the same hours as the dining room. This is basic stuff, and someone REALLY dropped the ball on it. Now, at 8:10 PM, all dressed in shorts and sandals, we were forced to go to the dining room to eat. When we arrived, they tried to turn us away due to our clothing (the dining room requires men to wear pants on all but the first and last night), but we insisted and kept moving toward our table. The staff relented and didn't continue to make it an issue. We're still perplexed about why the buffet closes so early, and we were unable to get any logical answers, even after registering the complaint with the guest relations desk.
- Speaking of the buffet, the different stations all close at random intervals during the day. Sometimes some stations are open while others are not. Your chances of being able to get an ice cream cone at any given time, based on our experience, is somewhere between, "hahaha, that's funny," and, "what's ice cream?"
- New Year's Eve. Everyone understands that this is a special night, and so should the dining room. We all got dressed up and went to get portraits done before dinner. The lines for pictures were longer than we anticipated and we showed up to the dining room about 25 minutes late. There is no leeway given in the dining room; if you're not there 15 minutes after your appointed time (8:00 PM), they give your table to someone else. Fair enough, but again there's no consideration for the event nature of the night. The assistant maitre 'd, Arsa, explained to us that he'd given our table away because we didn't show in time. He then explained that all the tables in the dining room were taken. That was it. He walked away and didn't even bother trying to help any further. Eight people in our party, including four kids, and he offered no solution. When he finally came back, between five and 10 minutes later, we demanded some sort of solution. He spent more time walking around, told us again that there were no tables, and ultimately handed us a buzzer like you'd find at a chain restaurant on a busy Saturday night. He said our wait would be around 30 minutes. 30 minutes later (after 9:00 PM) we came back to the dining room to ask about the status. Arsa was walking through the dining room toward the front, he saw us, and he immediately turned around and started bussing tables. After ignoring us for a good five minutes I finally was forced to approach him by walking through the dining room. I asked him about our status in the middle of tables full of guests, at which point he became snotty with me. It took another 30 or so minutes to finally be shown to a table - a full hour AFTER we were given the buzzer. Totally unacceptable, but at least we were ignored and were given plenty of attitude for our trouble.
When we arrived at our table, before even sitting down, another group of eight people was shown to the same table. The wait staff and dining room management were nowhere to be found. Both groups of us stood staring at one another for five or so minutes before someone from the dining room came to help. The other group was shown to a different table and we finally were able to sit down and enjoy a meal.
I probably didn't do a very good job of explaining just how frustrating, annoying and terribly handled this was. Trust me when I say that it was what sealed the deal for us to never sail with Holland America again.
Boring. That's the only word I can use to describe onboard activities. This is why I made the comment above about RCCL, NCL, Carnival and others. The activities were sparse, especially if you don't gamble. One or two planned activities per hour really slowed things to a screeching halt. The only activity taking place on the deck was the New Year's Eve party, but short of a special event like that there was nothing to speak of. There was a funny comedian one night in the World Stage, but other shows were not good. We walked out of two and didn't bother with the rest. Even basics like trivia contests were hard to find on the schedule, and when they were there they conflicted with dinner. The only nighttime activities worth visiting were the dueling pianos Billboard Onboard lounge and the band performing in the Queen's Lounge branded as B.B. King's. Every single night. Otherwise, you'll find daily stretching and yoga, daily mass, computer classes, mah johgg meet-ups, and a nightly movie shown on the lido deck screen. Seriously, nothing else exciting or even remotely interesting in the dull calendar. Like I said: boring.
Nearly everything on this ship has a corporate sponsor (BBC, Lincoln Center, Billboard, Oprah, Food Network, Microsoft), which you'd think would be fine, but it felt intrusive and salesy.
We had an issue with watching the Rose Bowl onboard (broadcast on ESPN), but since that's a one-time thing I won't bother spelling out the details. I'll just say that the guest services staff tried to organize a formal viewing location in the culinary arts center, but the staff there didn't seem to be aware.
We bought access to the thermal suite at the spa for the entire voyage ($299 per couple). Included is a central reclining pool (a giant hot tub) with massaging jet streams, heated ceramic lounges with window vistas, a steam room, sauna, cold water bucket and therapeutic showers, including a unique horizontal shower and a very spacious rain shower. Upon purchase we were told it would be available to us from 8:00 AM to 10:00 PM every day. On the final day of the voyage we were told that the reclining pool would be closed for scheduled maintenance at 6:00 PM. I spoke to the spa manager about this and after some discussion she agreed to issue a half-day, pro-rated refund. There was no answer regarding why they do scheduled maintenance during open hours when it could be done after 10:00 PM, but the manager agreed it didn't make sense. A half-win, but not really.
I've already covered dining room management, and the buffet issue is still confounding. In spite of poor management, the wait staff in the dining room were wonderful.
Our cabin steward was fantastically pleasant and nice, but other than the basic block-and-tackle job of cleaning up and making beds, he didn't get the job done. I requested a bottle of distilled water for the room twice and it was never delivered. I also repeatedly asked for additional bath towels, yet extras were never left in the room when it was made up. Again, he was pleasant and he got the basic job done, but it's also his job to know what the guest needs - especially after being approached repeatedly about the same things.
On the final morning you are permitted to remain in your cabin until your tag number is called for disembarkation, which is also a nice change of pace. However, the minibar staff spend most of that time banging on doors so they can access and account for all the stuff in your fridge. This is a nuisance, and it could be handled after people are already gone. Just another poorly executed service issue that could easily be resolved.
The guest services staff seemed to be more interested in making excuses than finding solutions for issues here and there. Minor inconveniences that could have been easily resolved turned into annoyances that would prevent me from sailing this line again.
The ports of call were fine. The beach bar we went to at Half Moon Cay (owned and managed by the cruise line, mind you) ran out of piña colada mix pretty early in the day. The most popular drink at a beach bar and they ran out. Someone should have to answer for that.
We didn't book any excursions through the cruise line, so no commentary on that service.
Overall, the ship is beautiful and the accommodations are the best we've experienced at sea. If we weren't traveling with friends, the terribly boring cruise would have sunk us. And the service onboard leaves much to be desired. We'll never sail with HAL again, and I wouldn't recommend it to anyone I know. Read Less