Having cruised with a number of different lines over the years we chose our first Holland America cruise recently because of the destinations it was going to in the South Pacific. After having been on the ‘geriatric express’ that is Princess Cruises (because it was going o PNG) we were a little apprehensive but told that HAL appealed to the more discerning traveller wishing to ‘experience’ fine cuisine and luxury. Interesting.
We quickly noted that quite a number of the patrons did seem to be from that precious, tedious class of human beings. A mix of many races and languages with a fair few Americans. Everything on board was very much geared to American tastes and interests. (We ran a little private contest to spot somebody smiling - it took 3 days.)
Example: in the middle of the hot Pacific Islands there was an inordinate number trooping off to the Dining Room all decked out in suits or tuxedos and finery. As a person who has spent his whole life wearing suits I sure don’t want to put one on while on holidays in the steamy Pacific.
Despite it being school holidays there was only a sprinkling of children on board and they seemed all quiet and well behaved.
Cuisine - dull to bad, repetitive with some really awful/silly concoctions. Every night meat and vegetables. Tricked up cafe level food. Very limited selection and in the buffet no self-serve. Instead a ridiculous system whereby you have to lineup (something akin to Seinfeld’s Soup Nazi), state (very quickly) what you want, (having just seen it), be served and step away. The queues grew long and people became very testy. A stupid, demeaning and inefficient system. HAL seem to be trying too hard. They produced numerous attempts at various cuisines but the result was amateurish and generally overcooked.
Interestingly we noticed that only about 50% of diners washed their hands when entering.
We had booked a transfer to the ship via HAL. When we arrived at the pickup point for the coach, as per instructions, there was nobody there and no coach. We searched everywhere in case we had missed something. Sometime later, back at the original pickup point, a confused mini van driver arrived and asked who we were. Apparently the coach had been cancelled and we’d somehow fallen through the cracks. No apology. Eventually, days later somebody noted the ‘inconvenience’. Incidentally we could have taken a local transfer coach for a third of HAL’s charge.
Which brings us to the prices on HAL. All cruise ships tend to rip you off. You’re a captive audience. HAL have the highest prices we have yet seen. Virtually everything from yoga to meditation classes involved a fee. To add insult they place a 15% service charge on their prices at purchase. We also had a few cases of wrong items appearing on our account. Then of course there’s the gratuities where the ships adds $16 per person per day to your account. HAL operates in US dollars so for Australians by the time you add on their service charge and convert to $A and include the card fee we’re paying 50%-60% more for everything.
NB Most of the ship’s photos went unsold because of the high prices.
In search of a positive about the ship I can quote one that happened by default. The lifts were great and there was no waiting time. This is because there was often nobody about. At times during the evening you could walk through the ship and not see anybody. We are not party animals but what the thousands of passengers were doing I don’t know. Seeking any sort of fun or enjoyment was not for them. The ship had the atmosphere of a well furnished, funeral parlour.
There was a venue called BB Kings Blues Club. Probably connected to the BBK franchise in the US. Great I thought. I really like blues. The band looked the part. Their music was tight and slick but in a Michael Jackson sort of way. The music certainly was not blues. No hint of a BBK tribute, Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters et al They played everything but - middle of the road elevator music, motown, rock and roll, some great jazzy r & b instrumentals but over two weeks never any blues. Seemed kind of pointless.
The onboard cafe with complimentary coffee, tea and snacks which is such a nice feature of Royal Caribbean ships and somewhere pleasant to sit was in this case a multi-purpose games room, library, internet venue with coffee priced higher than downtown Sydney.
The shows in the main theatre were mostly lifeless. With a very basic ship’s orchestra struggling along.
The daily fair consisted of things like flower arranging or scrabble tournaments. There was string quartet playing Vivaldi, Brahms, Schumann etc. Being familiar with most of their repertoire I can only say that their standard of playing was not particularly good. I stayed away.
We met people who were HAL groupies. They all seemed to be nouveau riche types who felt life should be quiet, erudite and dignified. A lot of it appeared a charade on their part.
All cruise lines have there good and bad points. It’s just that with HAL it was 60% negative.
At least the ship’s decor was in general pleasing to the eye (with some weird exceptions). Not the God-awful hideous stuff you find on say Carnival ships. The staff were all obsequiously pleasant. The crew not so much.
HAL with its dubious quest for genteel travel may suit some people but we will continue to seek a happy medium between loud and vulgar and the HAL ‘experience’.
Final Note: HAL sent out a questionnaire after the cruise to ascertain passengers degree of satisfaction or otherwise with the HAL ‘experience’. (Why do we have ‘experience’ everything now. You eat meals you don’t experience them, you sleep on a bed you don’t experience it ….. )
Anyway, I thought okay, I’ll give them a fair hearing, as they were keen to get feedback.
The online questionnaire crashed twice. That’s when I gave up.
Our basic suite, for which we paid near $10,000 was a bit tired. For the first time on a cruise ship we received no ‘onboard credit’. The cooling cupboard (fake fridge) was the worst we’ve encountered. The clothing cupboard space was limited. On a positive note the desk with an ocean view window was nice. The small cheap TV was dreadful. The speakers were shot which made watching anything really miserable. We reported it to the front desk and were told “Yes, it is bad but the ship is going in for refurbishment in October and these tv’s will be replaced. In other words, “Suck it up, Sir.”
(NB HAL cabins include a DVD player and there’s library of DVDs available, so having a useless TV was doubly frustrating.)