I know many people who have been told by frequent cruisers and even travel agents that Holland America Line is for seniors only. This simply is not true.
As I write this I am 24 years old. I have been on 2 HAL Vista class ships. The Noordam and the Oosterdam and I can easily say, everyone can have a good time on their Vista class ships! I haven't been on any of their older class ships so please do not think that this review applies to their older ships as I can not speak about them from experience. Without a doubt I would pick a HAL Vista class ship any day over Royal Caribbean, Carnival, or Princess. I can't comment on Celebrity, I have not yet cruised with them.
Holland America is known for their exceptional white glove service and certainly caters to a crowd that enjoys the finer things in life. I experienced this while cruising with them and here are my thoughts about the trip I took.
My wife and I chose Eastern Caribbean because of its reliable good weather and very scenic ports and beautiful clear beaches. We chose November simply because it was our anniversary and it is a good time of year to cruise cost wise. We loved the fact that embarkation was from New York City. Both of us have never been there and this was the perfect excuse to go a few days early and experience it. During the cruise however, we were made aware that HAL will no longer do Caribbean cruises from New York :(.
Embarkation went smoothly. My wife and I were there too early as our hotel was just around the corner. We arrived at 9 AM and found out that the previous cruisers were still leaving the ship. Boarding didn't start until 11 AM but the time went fast and we were literally the second couple on the ship. There is a certain atmosphere that can't be replaced when boarding a HAL ship. The crew is happy to greet you and ready to know your every needs.
The rooms are of typical cruise room size but laid out to make maximum open space and were equipped with everything you needed.
The Food. My favorite subject! My wife and I are foodies and are very critical on this subject. HAL will not disappoint as long as you eat every meal possible in the main dining room. We ate breakfast, lunch, and dinner in the dining room. FANTASTIC! So much variety and the menu changes daily unlike other cruise lines. Breakfast was the only meal that had the same menu every morning with the exception that there were 3-4 specials everyday that were completely different. Try as many dishes as you can, be experimental, you will be shocked at how frequently you will love it. If you happen to come across something you don't like, ask them to take it back and bring something else, they will! If a steak isn't cooked right, ask them to replace it with one that is right, they will do it!
The buffet is good but the food remains mostly the same there daily, you have to wait in lines to serve yourself and find a table...not that relaxing. During the 11 day cruise, my wife and I ate in the buffet only twice and only as a snack after being in port all day. If you read above, I am a fan of the dining room.
We tried the Pinnacle Grill one night and were very very satisfied with that meal. TRY THE CRAB CAKES!
Service is the second most important thing on a cruise for us. As typical of HAL service was outstanding. The staff get to know you and your preferences in a short time. That is the HAL difference. I have been on Royal Caribbean, Princess, and Carnival and never experienced that. HAL sets the bar. There were only 2 things that bothered me about the service on this ship and the only reason why I noticed was because of my previous experience on the Oosterdam. First, I'm not sure if HAL was experimenting with this or is making a permanent change on this ship but dinner seating was open. The advantage was that you could choose your dining time differently every night. The disadvantage was that you had to call in advance to schedule it daily if you don't want to wait in line. This was not a big deal at all. How it affected service, every night you had a different table, which means you most likely have different servers. I like having the same servers every night because they learn what entertains you and what your preferences are making the experience more personal. The one other advantage I would like to state about the open seating is that you can choose to sit alone or with other guests. We mixed it up and had a great time either way. The other area of service I noticed was that I think the Noordam can fit about 200 more guests than the Oosterdam but the crew size remains the same. So Comparably the Oosterdam has somewhat noticeably better service. This is only noticeable at times where a public area is busy. It may take a little longer for a server to come around to take a drink order and bring it back. No big deal, if you need a drink right away you could always walk to the bar where you would get served right away. For these reasons I gave the Noordam a 4 out of 5 for service where I would give the Oosterdam a 5 out of 5.
Entertainment also very important. All shows were very, very entertaining and usually had a comedic twist which always allowed for a good laugh. HAL obviously makes very careful selections in this area! I have been on other cruiselines that will just book anyone without reviewing their act. HAL cares about quality. The entertainment is suitable for all ages and they run an early show and a late show so no matter what dinner time you choose, you have a chance to see it. HAL also had live music in the populated areas of the ships and the bands played a good mix once again to please all ages. Live music is definitely better as they will interact with the audience and even take requests. The bands will often join you for a drink on breaks and between shows. I have known other cruiselines to just put on a very loud cd and leave it running without mixing up the genre. This is not very personable and can irritate guests that don't care for that style of music. Once again, I would like to applaud HAL for making the little things seem so important.
Public areas were always very very clean. Washrooms especially. All areas were richly decorated, spacious, and never felt crowded. That is also a HAL difference, you don't feel crowded by too many people. The bars were exceptional, had a vast drink menu. Our favorite bars were at the pools and the piano bar.
Drink cards. These are a great idea even though they don't offer a savings. Instead of collecting receipts everytime you swipe your room card for a drink, the drink tickets offer the ease of carrying around 1 waterproof card. Every time you order a drink they punch the card, no tipping required. There are cards for wine, cocktails, or soda. Cocktail and soda cards are fantastic. The wine...you only get house wine which is drinkable but not really enjoyable. You can get better glasses of wine with the card if you use your room key to pay the difference in pricing, but once again, what is the point if you are going to collect receipts anyway, might as well just do without the wine card. If you love wine, Attend the wine tastings and the Sommelier dinner, you won't be disappointed. One thing I would love to see HAL do is make a beer card, maybe one for premium one for domestic if they had to.
Ports of call. We chose eastern Caribbean because of the scenic views, beautiful clear beaches, and reliable weather. If it rains in the eastern Caribbean it will most likely stop within 10 minutes. We also chose the east because of St. Thomas, we were married there and went back to visit the site. We also wen to Megan's bay, the nicest beach we have ever been to. My only complaint there is that there is only one restaurant/bar which was very busy and over priced so eat before you go or take a snack.
It was also our second time in St. Maarten. Great friendly island. You can pick up good liquor and good cigars for little money. Beer everywhere downtown seems to be $1 so thats the best day to tie one on. Go to Orient Bay, it may be a nude beach but is very nice with many bars, restaurants and activities. there are a lot of people there but it won't feel crowded. I recommend renting chairs from the bars because they usually include a free drink and they will serve you more. Remember drinks are cheap here and a chair will probably cost $5 for the day. Buckets of beer are usually less than $10.
San Juan, hate this port. I like it because it is hot but it is boring. not a whole lot to do especially if the ship docks there on a Sunday which is a religious day for them. Everything is closed. It was our second time at this port and all the tours are boring. The castles are a little interesting but you have to cross through some really questionable areas to get there. Shopping is cheap but more expensive than other ports. You might as well stay on the ship. The nice beaches are too far to travel to.
Dominica, go on an excursion or you will be bored! There are no beaches, the shopping is not nice, the water is a little on the scary side. If you go on an excursion you get to see a lot of great scenery and learn a lot about their culture. We did river tubing, great fun! afterwards we tried to wander through the town but got really bored! Everything here is pretty cheap, but if you don't want to spend money on an excursion, stay on the ship!
Barbados. Fun, the people are friendly but also pushy. Went to a beach with a bar called the blue monkey. Beach was rough, bring water shoes. Drinks were good. You will get asked several times by the locals if you want to buy something, have a foot massage, go snorkeling, etc. just ask them to leave you alone.
Overall the trip was amazing. HAL exceeded our expectations. Although most of the passengers are seniors, the Vista class ships are both lively and relaxing for all ages. All entertainment and food caters to all generations and you will never be bored!