Background information: We were a party of 3, with my retired parents and myself in two separate ocean view cabins. My parents, age 70 and 64, have cruised once before on a Norwegian ship, and selected this ship and schedule. I'm a ... Read More
Background information: We were a party of 3, with my retired parents and myself in two separate ocean view cabins. My parents, age 70 and 64, have cruised once before on a Norwegian ship, and selected this ship and schedule. I'm a very active 40-year-old.
Ship information: The ship is immaculately clean on the inside, but they never washed the windows or the lido cover even on the sunny days while in port. It is not an extremely large ship and has a more traditional feel to it. My mother was disappointed because there was no deck that offered an unobstructed front view from the railing. On her previous cruise, she'd had that experience and loved it. The ship, despite having only 1400 passengers or so, was extremely crowded. Everywhere we went, we had to stand in line. The public parts of the ship are extremely noisy, because of the piped-in Muzak in the lido dining area, the acoustics in the Rotterdam, and the fact that with the exception of the classical duo, the musicians in the lounges played too loudly to allow people to sit quietly and converse. My parents both turned off their hearing aids after the first day due to the feedback and noise.
Activities: There are lots of sedentary activities but little to nothing for active people. There are two small pools, but nothing big enough for swimming laps. The two hot tubs were unfortunately so deep that I had trouble keeping my nose and mouth above water (I stand 5'7"), and they are seldom used except when people are soaking their feet. There are no jogging or running options since jogging on the promenade or upper deck is forbidden. A gym exists, and I checked it out the first day, except the high pressure sales tactics just didn't stop. No, I don't want a body fat analysis or a private fitness consultation or an extra-fee yoga class: I have a trainer back home that I already pay to do that, so I just want to work out in peace. I especially do not want to buy "supplements" or "therapies" that are based on pseudoscience bunk. Those guys won't take no for an answer, and the idea of running on a treadmill while staring through filthy windows just didn't appeal to me, so we never went back. I wanted to book a lesson with their tennis pro (since I saw they had a court), but it turned out to be toy tennis and with some plastic racquets for the kids, and there was no tennis pro on staff. A miniature basketball court existed on the top deck, but I never saw anyone actually using it. There was one charity 5k walk on one of the sea days where, for an extra fee, you could get some miles in on the outdoor promenade. We signed up for that, and I had spots on my retina for three days afterwards due to a photographer who would simply not stop popping her flash bulb in my face after I asked her to stop.
Sedentary activities: There was a dance class where people sat in an auditorium and watched an instructional video, and there were opportunities to sit and play cards or bingo, or gamble in the casino, or read, or watch a movie, a cooking demonstration, or a stage show. Most of the activities involved sitting and watching someone else do something. We tried a show, a cooking class, a dance class, several lectures, bingo, and my parents tried the casino, a movie, and card games. I checked out a fantastic Filipino stage show I'll describe later. Overall, there was a good variety of material but it was extremely sedentary. Had I been 80 years old, or in a wheelchair, doing this day after day might have appealed to me. Ordinarily I get two to three hours a day of hard exercise, but it simply wasn't available unless I was willing to put up with constant solicitation. Luckily I was seasick or unconscious from the motion sickness medicine for two of the sea days, so I wasn't constantly bored. I got a lot of knitting done.
Sales activities: Many of the informative activities are thinly disguised sales pitches. No matter where you go, you're under constant pressure to buy-buy-buy. Besides the junk mail in the cabins, there are multiple public address announcements throughout the day hawking this "art" auction or that spa special. (The art, by the way, is the same kind of mass produced stuff you can get in a mall mini-gallery).
Service: Our cabin stewards were outstanding. The wait staff in the Rotterdam dining room were exhausted, but my Tagalog is very limited and because of the language barrier they were not able to understand instructions like "dressing on the side", although they did correctly cook my parents' steaks well-done and medium-well. The food was well presented, and not all of it was excessively greasy or salty, but because of the service delays it was invariably cold. We had to stand in line to be seated, and it always took about two hours to eat dinner regardless of when we arrived or whether we agreed to share a table. This was a problem for families with small children, who cried, shrieked, and chattered in outdoor voices throughout the delay. For whatever reason, the wait staff periodically gathered to sing and clap for someone's birthday celebration as though they were at a Denny's. There also didn't appear to be enough service staff to handle peak demand. Service in the lido area was lackluster, and nobody seemed to be able to perform more than one task at a time. The staff were quite tired, possibly from the 15-hour days and the 7-day weeks.
Shore excursions: We went on a Skagway train ride that was phenomenal. We recommend it unconditionally. The Bering crab fishing trip was fun too, and we got to see the eagle sanctuary. That's the sort of trip you really have to get into: get up close, play with the animals, and photograph the birds if you want to get full value.
Cabin: The cabins were bigger than I expected and the bathrooms were very generous. There were a lot of flyers and advertisements. Hopefully they were recycled, because I got more paper on board than I do at home.
Dining: Despite sitting on my tush for nearly a week, I didn't gain an ounce. It's because the food was so consistently mediocre. The Rotterdam food is cold by the time it gets to the table, so I compensated by ordering things that are intended to be cold or room temperature, such as watermelon gazpacho soup, which I liked very much. The cupcakes are quite disappointing but some of the afternoon tea treats are tasty. Overall I disliked the desserts except for the mousses, most of which were delicious. At the lido buffet, the salad bar is respectable, the fruit selection is satisfying, and there was smoked salmon every morning, plus the eggs Benedict variations are outstanding. The rest is hit and miss (mostly miss). Most of the offerings are what I call "fat people food": extremely greasy, salty, and sugary with lots of refined starch in the form of potatoes, pasta, and bread. I indulged in bread, which is mostly American-style cake bread with lots of calories but little substance, but which is exactly as it's supposed to be. I also tended to go for Asian food on top of noodles. Standing in line over and over in order to get food at the Lido buffet is extremely tiresome. We'd be far less crowded if it were only possible to use a tray to hold the umpteen plates they hand out one at a time. I never did get to the front of the sandwich line because it took the server two to three minutes to make each sandwich, and due to fatigue he was not capable of starting a second sandwich while the first one was being grilled. We never tried either of the specialty restaurants because we were so disappointed with the mediocrity of the regular food that we didn't want to pay extra for more mediocrity. The alcohol service was generally good, but we're not big drinkers.
I'm a night owl. At the time I generally dine (9:30 PM) nothing is open. After midnight, the ship is mercifully quiet and it's an excellent time to walk about, but there's nothing whatsoever available to eat. So I spent a fair bit of time on the ship being hungry.
Children's clubs: The children on the ship seemed to be satisfied with Club HAL, but there was no provision at all for their special needs at mealtimes or in the evenings. There were toddlers being stood on the buffet tables by their parents, or allowed to wander around the lido and get lost, so someone was always screaming or crying. The toddlers and pre-teens in the Rotterdam were extremely bored and restless due to the 2-hour meals.
Entertainment: The Filipino crew show was heartfelt and wonderful: people were doing songs and dances from home. If it had been earlier in the evening, I think more people would have been able to enjoy it. They outperformed the professional singers and dancers in the regular stage show. The classical string duo was outstanding, and there's a talented solo guitarist and a jazz group who are also extremely good. The "Northern Lights" stage show left a lot to be desired. The voices were good, but the choreography was amateurish and the content verged on the offensive. My Canadian mother was quite put off by the way they made fun of the Mounties, and was it really necessary to select a gay anthem for every second song, but not actually sing the specific lyrics that made "Don't Stop Me", and Monty Python's Lumberjack Song useful? As a person who's not exactly straight myself (but disinclined to make a stage production of it), I'd rather have seen either mainstream content, or go ahead and own the fact you're singing a gay anthem. Wink-wink, nudge-nudge went out of style when the Village People did. I won't go so far as to say I was offended, but overall the compromise was in pretty poor taste.
Spa: The bamboo massage was advertised as being deeper than a deep tissue massage, but failed to live up to the hype. I have very oily skin and a tendency to get body acne, but instead of a light oil or lotion, the masseuse enough heavy, pore-clogging oil to qualify me for a Turkish wrestling match. The grease was extremely uncomfortable, and I had to immediately go back to my cabin to shower twice in order to remove it all. She also got some in my hair, which had to be washed out, and sure enough I am now dealing with another body acne outbreak. After the extremely mediocre massage, which focused on the back and the front and back surfaces of the arms and legs but which provided nothing for the sides of the legs or the arms, the masseuse tried to sell me some of the products she'd been using on me. That's right: after a very expensive massage, they were still trying to up-sell and push more products I don't need, don't want, can't use, and can't wait to wash off. I left the spa more tense than I was when I came in.
Summary: My parents are not willing to cruise on Holland America again, but since they've had a good cruising experience in the past they may be willing to do a cruise again on a different line. I think this kind of cruise experience might be OK for me if I'm ever crippled or paralyzed, but until then I want to actually do something on my vacation instead of sitting on a chair. Overall, this was not a relaxing or fun trip due to the never-ending hours of sitting around or standing in line. It was about like being on the cleared side of a major airport, except there was engine noise and mild seasickness. I was ready for the vacation to be over on the third day, and was more stressed at the end than I was before it. Overall, it didn't seem worth it especially after the plane fare. Read Less