My husband and I were very disappointed with a number of things on our 1 May Panama Canal cruise on the Veendam. Some of the problems were related to the fact that the ship had left dry dock not completely ready; however, many of the problems were totally avoidable simply by a bit of thought and good management.
Although our room stewards, dinner stewards and many of the bar staff provided very good service, these problems made it difficult at times to enjoy the cruise. When we arrived, after traveling for over 6 hours, there was at least a 3-hour delay in being able to board the ship. Two hot and stuffy terminals filled with people waited for hours until we could board. My husband and I finally boarded just before the lifeboat drill around 4pm. Some of the passengers were clearly seriously tired - in the terminal just before we got on the ship, we saw two seniors being treated by paramedics for heart problems and another being treated for an arm injury from falling on the escalator.
After the lifeboat drill we went to find something to eat only to be told that NOTHING was open until 5:30! After such a long day, we were very tired and hungry (I'd had a muffin and a tiny bag of peanuts since we got up at 3am for our flight and there was no food and limited water in the waiting terminals). At 4:30pm there were several people wandering around looking for anything to eat. This was definitely disturbing. As you would expect, the press of people at the 5:30 sittings and in the Lido was overwhelming! Why didn't somebody think ahead and, realizing the boarding was delayed, arrange for at least the grill or part of the Lido to remain open?
That was just the beginning.
Our suitcases didn't make it to our room for hours after we sailed (we found one ourselves and brought it back to our room). Apparently the elevators on the ship weren't working fully yet so it was very hard for the staff to bring them to the floors. Moreover, the bags weren't marked with stateroom numbers since we weren't informed of our number before the trip.
The first night, the stateroom was freezing cold and the power died, leaving us in the cold and dark. They corrected the power problem in an hour or so. There was also an open pipe over our veranda from which spewed dirty brown water over the windows, deck and railings (the railings and deck were crusty with the filth). Essentially we were paying for a veranda we couldn't use and a room that was too cold to stay in.
To top it off, we discovered there were no curtains for the windows (we insisted that window coverings be found and they were installed before midnight as was the power). We went to bed in the terribly cold room.
On 2 May, we went to the Front Desk to complain again about the freezing temperature in our room and it was repaired. Later in the trip, while we were in Central America , the room became so hot that we could not stay in it (hot air was blowing in from the vent). We went down to the Front Desk and threatened to come down their to sleep. It was fixed again. It never really reached a comfortable temperature in our room either too hot or too cold since the thermostat never functioned at all throughout the trip.
Two days into the trip, both engines failed. Luckily the crew got one of the engines back, but the delay meant that the Costa Rico stop had to be cancelled. Since the Mexican stops had also been cancelled due to Swine Flu, that left only one port (Cartagena) before we arrived in San Diego, so the cruiseline added Guatamala and Nicaragua as ports.
Unless people came to breakfast early, it was very difficult to use the main dining room for breakfast. This was not a case of our trying to get in to the dining room 5 minutes before it closed either it was clear that the dining room could not handle people who came over half an hour before it closed. For example, on 3 May, the dining room breakfast was scheduled for 8 to 9:30am. We arrived at 9:05 to be told there were no tables ready in fact, the couple before were sent to the Lido . When we acted surprised that they couldn't seat us when seating was open until 9:30, they suddenly found a table for us. This problem though existed throughout the voyage. It was clear that the ship could not handle the full breakfast at a single sitting. Anyone coming at about 8:50am for an 8-9:30am breakfast faced being sent to the Lido, or, if they could seat us, dallying over a two-hour breakfast as food service was terribly slow.
We found that we couldn't rely on morning roomservice either. We ordered it once in Cartagena since we had a tour and thought that would make it easier for us to reach the tour on time. However, the roomservice didn't arrive in the timeslot we'd listed, so 10 minutes after the timeslot we had to run up to the Lido to grab something so we would have breakfast before our tour. It seemed a shame to waste that food. We ordered breakfast for the last day of the cruise as well and they phoned us to cancel it since they could not handle the breakfasts since the ship elevators were busy with luggage.
Five days after we left port, the pipe on our veranda was repaired. However, the filth remained (the floor and railings were crusted with it) so we still could not use it. We finally offered to clean it ourselves if the ship would provide buckets and scrub brushes. It was cleaned though by our room stewards just before we got to Panama .
Throughout the trip the outside windows of most of the public places and bars were smeared with dirt and hard to sea out of. I was very unimpressed with the cruise daily event flyers. I had found them useful on previous Holland America cruises but these had a different format and didn't include all the events or provide enough information about the events that they did list. I discovered at the end of the cruise that there'd been line dancing, wine tasting and karaoke and that there had been a boat making contest. I didn't see these in the magazines. Some events were mentioned quickly over the intercom, but were not easy to hear in all rooms and were not always clear about times and details. It felt as if the cruise events were for a select few, not for us.
The main Showroom had incredibly uncomfortable straight backed seats with no back support at all and from many seats it was absolutely impossible to see the stage. I've never seen such a poor showroom.
External windows throughout the ship were filthy and hard to see out - though we saw some workmen cleaning windows when we left the ship in Vancouver - we heard that the President of the company was coming on board.
I was very unhappy about how the San Diego stop was handled. As Canadians, we received a paper notifying us that we should report to a small showroom on the 7th deck at 6:30am. It wasn't made clear whether or not we had to do so if we weren't getting off the ship. Since we thought perhaps we would disembark briefly we were there on time. It was terribly crowded. The young man who was handling crowd control made it clear that he had no idea about any of the whys or whos or hows in fact, whenever he had a question, he had the crowd chant the answer - "I don't know". The hot stuffy room was incredibly crowded and there were lineups down through the hall to the lobby. Because of the congestion, there was an announcement at 7:30 that the folk scheduled for 7:30 should stay away. It took us a full hour in these conditions before we cleared customs. Moreover, I discovered later that the few Americans that needed to go through customs on the ship (full disembarkations for Americans were handled in the terminal) were seen in the large showroom all two rows of them. It was clear that many of the Canadians never understood that they were required to report to that area to see American customs so disembarkation was greatly delayed as repeated announcements were made to have Canadians report. There was also misinformation regarding Canadians who were fully disembarking at San Diego . Apparently they and their luggage were required to go to that crowded little showroom as well rather than seeing customs in the terminal. Disembarkation was held up as repeated calls were made for missing Canadians. Surely Holland America could have done some research into what was needed for San Diego customs and have shared that information clearly with the passengers. The spectacle of a cruise employee arranging chants of I DON'T KNOW just doesn't jive with Holland America 's image.
As a last note, it felt as if Holland America did not feel that the Canadians on board were important although we made up approximately half of the passengers on this voyage. There was a big celebration in the main dining room when the predominantly American passengers left the ship in San Diego . While it was understandable that the ship would not have two full celebrations, a simple announcement at dinner prior to the Canadians leaving in Vancouver would have been nice. Without that, it felt like a mere "good riddance".
This was definitely not a cruise we would like to repeat. We will not likely book with Holland America again.