I am an active, adventurous mature adult who has seen the world on 56 cruises to date. I travel solo (with the constant wish that more cruise lines would offer better rates for solo travelers!). I love the sea and sailing, and probably enjoy the ride on the ship as much as the ports. I remember the “old” Holland America from the years before Carnival obtained it, and wish that this historic cruise line could have remained independent. I am a Two Star Mariner with Holland America’s loyalty program. This cruise had a lot of interesting ports I’d not seen before, plus the chance to sail on a unique ship before it left the company. Due to some serious quality issues, I had to rate the cruise average, but in many ways it was also very good (service and itinerary, especially).
I flew to England from Boston for the cruise, spending one night at the very good Hilton hotel near Heathrow Terminal 5. I had a private chauffeur service for the scenic ride to Dover the next morning. I’ve not officially toured Dover, but have seen some of it by car several times when arriving for cruises.
Embarkation was one of the best ever at the small Dover cruise terminal. The staff are mature adults with lots of smiles and courtesy. From check-in with a very gracious lady to entering my suite, the total time was 24 minutes. Might have been even faster, but I used stairs rather than elevator from the entry level deck to my suite with my carry-on bag. My luggage arrived about 20 minutes after I did. Holland America is planning on selling the “Prinsendam” to another shipping company in July. The ship had previously been in service with Regent Seven Seas, among others. It is a small “boutique” size, with an elegant, yacht-like profile, and considering its age, looked extremely well maintained on the exterior at first glance. The classic blue and white hull of Holland America is lovely in its simplicity. The full passenger contingent is close to 800, approximately, but on this sailing we had just 535 people, mostly from the USA, England, and other English-speaking countries, plus a nice mix from around the world. Crew is international, with the famous Indonesian service crews in the cabins and dining rooms. Amenities are similar to other cruise ships, but on a smaller scale. You will not find the rock climbing walls and amusement park attractions, nor the huge size so popular with today’s newer ships. Classic, almost English country estate style décor throughout the ship. Magnificent fresh floral arrangements are everywhere, and are changed frequently throughout the ship. This cruise line must have the world’s best florists onboard their ships. It’s easy to get around inside the ship, and I was given a useful map of the ship with my room keycard upon check-in. Plenty of stairs and elevators to keep things moving. Traditional wood promenade deck circles the ship, but no jogging is allowed – have to jog on the very top deck on a designated track. The ship appeared to be extremely clean on the inside, and crew were visible night and day at their assigned housekeeping tasks. There is no spectacular atrium, only a few decks with an open center with art work in it. There are gorgeous art objects and collectibles of museum quality in display cases throughout the ship, as well as very nice paintings of the ship in its various incarnations and in various places around the globe. There is an observation lounge forward and high up in the ship with a stunning view forward. Fairly small lido buffet, lovely main dining room and other small dining venues nearby. The usual “you are here” ship maps are displayed on each deck. Nice central pool area with hot tub, sheltered areas with tables for outdoor dining nearby. One popular feature was the “America’s Test Kitchen” venue, with theater-type seating for a small audience. Whatever they cooked, however, sent its aroma throughout the entire ship, as did the galley area. A small lounge area had an elegant marble fireplace, and it looked straight out of Downton Abbey – really beautiful. Huge library with game tables, books on many subjects, computer stations, comfortable seating. The few shops were not large, but staffed by extremely nice crew. Large jewelry store, small sundries/logo item shop, usual duty-free items. The guest services area was far too small and too public, and it was often hard to hear when all the agents were serving guests and people were speaking loudly to be heard over the other guests. The future cruise consultant worked at a small desk in the main foot traffic pattern just off the guest services desk area, again with no privacy. This was a very busy and popular area, with people signing up on a clipboard for time to meet with the future cruise consultant. The clipboard filled within minutes for each day’s chance to book another cruise. Lots of very loyal cruisers and Mariners Club members on this cruise with plans for more cruises.
Activities were geared toward the demographics on this cruise, and the average age seemed to be 70+. Lots of board games, bridge games, Bingo, sedentary activities suited to guests with limited mobility or health issues. There was a morning stretch class, and daily yoga for those interested. Nightly shows in the small theater with typical cruise ship entertainment. Shopping opportunities while at sea. Small casino for the gamblers, but it did not seem very popular, even in the evenings. Port talks and a lecturer about what to see and do at each port. People seemed more inclined to entertain themselves with reading, using the computers, walking, eating, time in the various bars, and socializing with people they knew. Mostly couples traveling with other couples, very few single people. I did not see a child on this cruise. There was daily Mass, as well as other religious service options, during this 14-night cruise. I’m sure I missed some of the activity options, as I am a very early riser and like to get to bed at a decent hour and read. The ship had a small but nicely equipped fitness center, which was almost entirely empty every time I was in there.
Service on Holland America ships is legendary. My two experienced room stewards could easily have worked in Buckingham Palace – they were quick, discrete, respectful, courteous, friendly, and once briefed on my usual schedule, had my suite cared for at my convenience every day and night of the cruise. I never really saw these two nice men, either – they did their magic and disappeared. I never saw service carts in the corridors, either, which was a blessing for those using walkers and scooters. My two dining room waiters treated me like royalty as well, as did all the head waiters and the maitre’d. More on that in the dining review. Shop crew were all nice and friendly. Some of the spa crew seemed a bit burned out, with one manicurist who really did not seem to know what she was doing – but the hair stylist was fabulous. A few of the guest services crew had “attitude” and seemed to get aggressive, argumentative and defensive far too quickly considering the job they were doing – and they were too young to really be able to have the experience and maturity to deal with older adults. The rest of the guest services desk crew were very polite and helpful. All were enviably multilingual, as were most of the service crew within the ship. Some of the best service came from Eugene, one of the engineering staff – details to follow. Some of the service crew at lower levels did not have proper English skills to understand or communicate, unfortunately, which led to frustration in both parties in various situations. There is an obvious chain of command to get things done on this ship, and the bottom links in the chain need more skill in English.
There was a nice variety of shore excursions, with good detail about level of activity, special requirements, and what to expect, travel times, etc. I had booked just one excursion, a hike for one of the island ports, but it was cancelled due to lack of people booking it. I usually explore on my own anyway, and still had an excellent time. In some ports, shuttle buses were provided and proved to be a blessing as far as saving time or not having to walk if it rained. Inevitably, some of the ports required the tender service, which seemed to run more efficiently on this small ship than the big ships. It was lovely to arrive on shore and find a canopy for shelter, and hot and cold beverages nicely dispensed, plus places to sit while waiting for the tender back to the ship.
The itinerary for this ship was really a great way to sample the UK and two European countries. It included the Isle of Jersey, Falmouth England, Fishguard Wales, Greenock Scotland, Isle of Skye Scotland, Isle of Mull Scotland, Dublin Ireland, Brugge/Brussels Belgium, Antwerp Belgium, and ended at Amsterdam, The Netherlands. Nearly perfect weather most of the trip, or at least dry, and my two favorite ports were the stops at Skye and Mull. Every port had something really good and valuable to enjoy, however.
Holland America offered me a last-minute upgrade for reasonably small sum, so I traded my veranda cabin for a large suite. The veranda was enormous with two wicker lounges with small foot stools, and a table. The entire seaward wall of the suite was glass. King-size bed (made from two twins), with outstanding high-quality mattress and bed linens and lots of pillows. There was a desk/vanity area with mirror, makeup mirror and chair, surrounded by storage in part of the unit. Holland America offered me a last-minute upgrade for reasonably small sum, so I traded my veranda cabin for a large suite. The veranda was enormous with two wicker lounges with small foot stools, and a table. The entire seaward wall of the suite was glass. King-size bed (made from two twins), with outstanding high-quality mattress and bed linens and lots of pillows. There was a desk/vanity area with mirror, makeup mirror and chair, surrounded by storage in part of the unit.
Two bedside tables, plenty of lamps and lights. A very long marble combination bar, desk, and work space area was on one wall, with multiple storage drawers and cabinets above and below. There was also a small refrigerator in a cabinet here. Lots of bar glasses, mini-bar setup in the refrigerator, offering waters, beer, sodas, etc. Evian water in liters was on a tray. Fruit is delivered upon request, as is ice. Nice upholstered chairs, and a large curved sofa in one corner of the suite, with a large table. It would be easy to entertain at least 6 people in the space. The wood furniture was traditional, but sadly tired and chipped with some stains. The soft fabric furniture fared better. Unfortunately, the sheer curtains and too-thin drapes did not do much to keep out the daylight which seemed to start about 3 AM at the high latitude of the cruise, in May. The drapes had to be re-hung at my request due to not tracking or closing properly. There was an enormous walk-in closet with plenty of good wooden hangers. There were multiple shelves within the closet, and drawers. Slippers and toweling robe were provided, as were a huge umbrella and a clothes brush and shoehorn. This suite would be marvelous for an extended cruise, between the comfortable bed, ample storage space, and some nice useful extra amenities. However, the age of the ship is exposed when looking for USB ports (none) or any electrical outlet save one at the vanity mirror. The lights were also extremely dim, which made reading in bed nearly impossible. Large modern flat-screen TV in place over the marble workspace/bar area, with OK but not great programming. Nice handy small container near the door for the keycard and do not disturb/make up room card. While the furniture showed a lot of wear and tear, the bed linens were great, and the carpeting seemed to be in good condition. Rather dark and somber colors in the suite, but that probably is intentional to hide dirt or wear. The bathroom was gorgeous peach and cream marble, and had two compartments with sliding doors. Small toilet compartment opened off the entry foyer, with a sink, and could be closed off by two sliding doors. The main part of the bathroom had a very large tub with hand-held shower spray and unfortunately a clingy shower curtain and an old-fashioned plastic bath mat. This mat had to be replaced immediately upon arrival, as it was slimy and old – this was fixed very quickly upon request. Plenty of space around the large sink, with a modern single-lever faucet system. There were several very tiny glass shelves, and two metal rings holding small glasses. Plenty of towels and towel racks, but the towels were either new and thick and fluffy or nearly threadbare and scratchy. The main bath area had its own sliding door into the main part of the suite, and if one wanted to soak in the tub and watch the sea roll by, simply open the bathroom’s sliding door and enjoy the view straight out from the tub to the glass veranda wall and the sea. The suite bathroom was provided with Elemis toiletries. This product is considered spa quality and is famous around the world, but I found the scent overpowering and the products themselves quite drying to sensitive skin. The soft water from the ship’s desalinization system literally melted the bathroom soap. The suite was serviced twice a day, but I prefer to make my own bed and just have the bath cleaned at night, which shocked my kind stewards. They did as I asked however, and joked that I made my bed better than they did. I try to stay healthy on cruises, and the fewer hands which touch my personal things and living space, the better. The ship was entirely silent at night, so sleep quality was incredibly good, even with the early daylight. AC and heat were controllable individually in the suite, but the thermostat was a challenge, as I will detail at the end of this review. The suite was located on one of the highest decks, directly below the Lido deck, and I did not need an alarm clock for early rising – the deck crew began dragging the lounge chairs around the pool, and the tables and chairs, right at 4:30 AM. I did mention this to guest services, but it did change the situation. Being up high on the ship and quite forward, there was a lot of motion during sailing. Thankfully, there were only two rather impressive storms at sea. The motion was strong enough to remove any doubt that this was a real ship doing real sailing, and it provided a surprisingly good night’s sleep. I would not ordinarily select such a location, but the suite upgrade offer was too good to pass up, and the suite selection was very limited at the time of the upgrade.
I had my dinner in the main dining room, early seating and was able to sit alone as I had requested. A nearby table with an interesting couple provided enough company if they wished to visit, which was good for both of us. The small passenger population enabled very speedy, gracious service and I never saw one waiter trying to serve 20 tables as they do on other cruise lines. The head waiters often became a bit too intrusive and hovering, but I understand they genuinely wanted their guests to enjoy the food and avoid any possible problems or issues with the menus. The chefs were Indian and Indonesian, and definitely cooked the various items in their native style. The food seemed to be heavily over-salted, and loaded with very hot spices, no matter what the food item was. Many people were complaining about their legs, feet, hands swelling and blood pressure going up from the salt. After one or two dinners that were nearly inedible, I had to talk to the head waiter and maitre’d about modifying what I ate or getting something made special. I was amazed at how much the crew leaders in the dining room, including the head chef, came to my rescue and showed me the dinner menu 24 hours ahead of serving, and if there was something there I couldn’t enjoy they would make something I could eat comfortably. The menu items were at times bizarre combinations of probable leftovers, especially the starters, with a lot of fruit items. Plenty of typical American home-cooking and comfort foods, too. Long gone are the elegant Continental gourmet cuisine of earlier cruises! I heard some comments that the meats were all very greasy. Some items were recognizable on the menu and familiar, but when they arrived, were totally different and often inedible. There is some serious confusion about the use of mayonnaise in their cooking on this ship, for instance, and some of the soups were peculiar. Fish was very good, and if one loves rice, this is the cruise line for you – they make all the world's rice varieties in rice cookers, the Asian way, and the rice was better than the breads and most of the deserts.
I had room service for a very simple light breakfast, and light lunch. I do not eat at cruise ship buffets anymore, again in an attempt to remain healthy, not gain weight, and stay away from food that always seems to be dried out, cold or hot when it should be hot or cold, and I’ve seen too many people put their fingers in buffet food. Room service started out as terrible experiments for lunch. Chicken soup looked like brown dish water with garbage bits floating in it, filmed with grease. I ordered a cheese quesadilla for one lunch, and it consisted of a Middle Eastern pita bread wrap, filled with hard yellow corn kernels mixed into an onion paste. No cheese. I don’t expect authentic Mexican quesadillas on an Indonesian-themed cruise ship, but this was going a bit too far. Two regular room service stewards, both cheerful and friendly, brought whatever I needed morning and noon and delivered it at the requested time to the second, breakfast and lunch time. Trays were set up beautifully, and even tea arrived quickly and elegantly. Once the stewards knew what I liked, I could ask them to custom-make an item like a quesadilla and it arrived perfectly cooked and prepared. It does take time, patience and some team effort to get cruise ship food the right way, and while there may be initial frustration, eventually on my cruise it all worked out beautifully. I believe the ship provisioned in England before it sailed, and that may account for some of the rather unique food items and ingredients. The suite’s minibar was restocked as needed, but nothing in there was free. Other than one Diet Coke, I did not have anything else from the minibar stock. A few times, I noticed some room-service plates and dining room plates which had areas of a thin film of grease on them.
This ship did not appear to be welcoming to children. Perhaps there was a designated child entertainment area on board, but it there was, I never saw it. I did not see any babies or children on this cruise.
Entertainment featured something for everybody, be it quiet board games, reading, the evening main show featuring the typical singers, magicians, dancers and specialty entertainers. I only watched a time of one of the pianists who performed, and he was very good. The singers seemed to be a full note or two off key, with tired old song and dance numbers in the “Broadway” style show entertainment. There were never enough seats for the early show with many people standing in the back of the theater. My favorite entertainers on the cruise were the two musicians who played chamber music in the Explorer’s Lounge. They deserved a better venue, as people constantly talked while they were playing, and there was a lot of foot traffic back and forth in front of them. One gentleman played the piano, and the other the violin. They were from Hungary and Romania, and obviously had serious and excellent classical training. Requests were welcomed, and everyone eventually heard a favorite piece. They played three 45 minute sets after dinner, and I usually went to at least two every night. It was so relaxing and soothing it was hard to stay awake, and with the older crowd as audience, some people went to sleep. Nothing bothered these two young gentlemen during their performing, even enormous rough seas one night. They should have been a featured concert in the main theater. Very sociable and gracious to chat with, as well. There were a variety of movies on the TV system in the cabins, but some were old and outdated. Lots of “commercials” for shore excursions and shopping on the TV, as well. There was a singer and/or pianist in the bar or bars, but as I don’t do the bar scene, can’t really report on that. There was a late-night DJ or some kind of music advertised, but most of the guests retired early. The best entertainment I saw in the theater was a music group brought onboard during the long port call at Dublin, with classic Irish humor, songs and some fabulous music and traditional Irish dancing. This group had some of us singing with them and dancing in the aisles! Fabulous!
The last night of the cruise, the ship slowly moved along the Scheldt River and into a series of locks on its way to Amsterdam’s busy port. With the early daylight and needing to be up very early for the express departure, I was up at 3:30 AM, and enjoyed watching the slow progress down the river and the locks. There was a hazy blue mist or fog part of the way, and huge flocks of lovely white swans serenely floating in the water as the shipped quietly slipped past them. Worth getting up early to see this last bit of serenity before returning to the reality of a big city and hectic airport experience.
Disembarkation was as nice as embarkation, at least for me. I chose the express departure option, and at 7:15 AM was able to haul my own load of bags off the ship and into the terminal, right on time. It took probably 10 minutes altogether, and was a blessing, as I had a private tour booked for Amsterdam before being taken to the airport by my fantastically good guide.
While most of my cruise experience was really very good, unfortunately there were some things which made me seriously consider leaving the ship at the first port after Dover. I was wondering about the condition of the ship, considering its imminent sale in two months. I’d not sailed with Holland America in 15 years, and was also curious if the level of service was the same and the serene, adult, quiet ambience still reigned.
Probably the most annoying issue was the appearance of dirty brown water, twice during the cruise, from the bathroom sink and shower and in the toilet. Some problem with the storage tank, supposedly. Of course this necessitated requesting bottled water. I can’t digest the Evian water placed in the stateroom, and asked for something different. I spent most of one whole day trying to communicate with people lacking English that I needed to get a different brand of water, and they kept bringing more Evian. Had to hassle with the guest services crew about this, and finally a gentleman who was in charge of the main bar found two varieties in the crew provision area and sent a bottle of each to my suite for me to try. Both were good and I chose one brand. I was told the water would be free for the cruise, and a large quantity was delivered. I had to wash my face and brush my teeth with this water, as the brown water took two days at least to finally clear. I never trusted it after that anyway. A few days before the end of the cruise, a bill came for the last delivery of bottled water, and I protested that it was supposed to be free. Guest services would not budge however, and I had to pay for the water.
The second issue was the ventilation system in the suite. Noise level out of the bathroom vents and the main suite area was that of a jet in flight. I called guest services, who sent two useless people who could not communicate, and then Eugene arrived – the ship needs 100 Eugenes, he was that skilled and wonderful. He removed the suite’s main grill and pulled out foot after foot of filthy, blackened, disgusting sooty foam filter material. The carpet was coated with this stuff, and a tray of clean glasses was soiled. The soot and dust floated throughout the suite, and I don’t want to think about what we were all breathing. I covered my nose and mouth and got as far away from this mess as I could, but it was still in the air. Eugene vacuumed out the ducting as far as the vacuum wand reached, and then put clean new foam filters in and adjusted the air flow. Blessed silence finally. He then did the same thing with the bathroom vents, which had the same filth in them, and they too became silent while doing their job. This is something which should have been cleaned and routinely inspected and apparently had been neglected, perhaps in view of the upcoming sale. For whatever reason, this issue was addressed in the early evening, but due to the mess it ran on into the late evening. Unfortunately, the stewards, who were called by Eugene to clean up the horrible mess and replace the soiled chair, did not realize that the water was still running brown in the bathroom – they turned on the water full force to check it, which splashed all over the just-cleaned bathroom, and they had to clean it all over again, as well as clean up the bathroom mess from the vents. It took hours, and was a terrible way to spend an evening on a cruise.
The ship had a nice little laundry for guest on several decks. This was somewhat of a challenge to use, however, as the instructions on the machines were in Dutch. There was a translation of sorts, thankfully, and use of the facilities was free. Even detergent was provided. Nice when everything worked. However, there were problems with some of the machines, which often stopped mid-cycle. Once again, I called the fabulous Eugene, but had to go through several episodes of very young crewmen trying to fix things but not understanding a word of English. They had to call their supervisors, who talked to me and then called Eugene, which wasted a lot of time. I doubt they ever fixed everything so all the machines worked at the same time, but at least the laundry got done. I’ve never seen such complicated washers in my life, but it beats having to wash things in the bathroom sink, and was a good way to learn some basic Dutch words, no kidding. A cruise ship is a foreign country, so why not take advantage of what one can learn while having (or enduring) new experiences. If we want things to be the same as at home, just stay home.
I was mildly annoyed to be told that I could not jog on the promenade deck. It was usually deserted, and I jog silently and slowly. I was told by Guest Services that the bridge “would get me” and stop me if I used the prom deck, so I was stuck up in the wind, stack soot and some cigarette smoke on the top of the ship where the jogging track was. Never could figure out what the issue was about the prom deck.
My one manicure in the spa was a disaster, performed by a burned-out or unhappy young woman who did not really know the proper way to do a manicure. My nails looked horrible, and it was very painful.
On the journey up the Scheldt River to Antwerp during the night, the ship passed an enormous refinery or chemical plant or some such structure which seemed to stretch for miles. I was awakened by the stench of what seemed to be burning hair and garbage, and got up to look in the cabin for a problem, and looked outside to see this facility erupting huge clouds of smoke into the air. I opened the door to the veranda, and could smell the stink coming from this place. The horrible odor made further sleep impossible, and permeated the entire ship for almost two days. My first purchase in Antwerp was a solid air freshener to put in my suite – nothing got rid of the stench, even with the veranda door opened once in Antwerp. I was not the only guest who complained about this, and there wasn’t much to be done – there had to be some source of ventilation for air into the inside of the ship, even if the air was polluted.
The thermostat in my suite was placed almost at ceiling height up one wall. The tiny numbers, in Celsius, were nearly impossible to read even with strong reading glasses. Whoever decided to place this important device at such an impractical height was either 7 feet tall or a fool. With the large variables in the cruise climates, both heat and cooling were necessary at times.
Outrageous pricing on the internet – one paid for 24 hours of usage, rather than by the minute and it averaged out to about $24 US per day, even if used for minutes or an hour or two. Costs were slightly lower with buying a package, but it was still far too expensive. Service was slow, and several times could not be accessed at all from my suite. I had to use the public computers, and was thankful to see large canisters of antibacterial wipes near each station. Lots of very sick people in this ship, coughing and sneezing all over everything, including the keyboards and computers.
Guest services, or somebody in the crew, kindly delivered a large plate of chocolate-covered strawberries to my suite as the list of problems began to increase, but since I cannot digest fruit, I had to sadly decline the peace offering.
In summary, despite the long list of problems, Holland America is still the proud old company it began as, even if Carnival has imposed its cost-cutting measures in some areas. There was still a feeling of quality and class, especially on this lovely older ship and among the senior and “mature” passenger contingent. It was a very quiet cruise, with none of the carnival-barker hawking of “seminars”, art auctions, bingo games, etc. Especially appreciated was the fact that nobody used the little line about “have an EXCELLENT day,”, which is really just trolling for good reviews, as Princess and other cruise lines so irritatingly continue to do. The American cruise director had a lovely speaking voice and would make a few short important announcements as required, but otherwise it was blessedly silent. No blasting of loud, noise-machine type music in the public spaces, either. The captain was magnificent in his ability to clearly communicate and keep the guests informed – very good with his detailed nautical reports once a day as well. The famed Indonesian and Asian level of service is still there, maybe even better than years ago. I was impressed and gratified that the long letter I sent to the main office of Holland America upon my return home, listing the issues which were extremely upsetting and annoying during my cruise, was actually read by a human and generated a reply from a human, and not a computer-generated generic “so sorry” letter. The agent sent a very nice letter to me in reply, in a timely manner, acknowledging my concerns and problems, and seemed genuinely distressed that my cruise was not 100% perfect in every way. I was also given a large discount on my next booked cruise. This is what one would expect from a company with as old and reassuring a history of customer satisfaction as Holland America’s, but if such expectations could usually be counted on in the past, they have become lovely surprises when they turn up in the world of cruising today with the level of guest satisfaction at the excellent level far less common than it used to be. Holland America is clearly proud of its reputation, and obviously seeks to retain it.
Would I sail on this cruise line again? I have a short coastal cruise booked for this fall, and hoping the good things remain and the problem issues are few or non-existent.