BACKGROUND: We are frequent, experienced travelers and have taken over 25 cruises on at least nine different lines. We booked the 20 day Christening Cruise of the Koningsdam (actually 13 day Christening and 7 day Norway) for the ... Read More
BACKGROUND: We are frequent, experienced travelers and have taken over 25 cruises on at least nine different lines. We booked the 20 day Christening Cruise of the Koningsdam (actually 13 day Christening and 7 day Norway) for the off-the-beaten-path ports and the chance to sail on a new ship. We had previously taken one HAL cruise in 2005.
SHIP LAYOUT: There are parts of the Koningsdam that are lovely and much of the music-related art is interesting and unique (even though art work depicting David Bowie and the Sex Pistol’s Sid Vicious seem ironic on a line whose passenger base averages in their 70s). All of the public space is on Decks 2 and 3 and Deck 9 and above so it is not a difficult ship to find your way around. For all its updated glittery spaces, the ship feels dark and a bit claustrophobic. Unfortunately, the Koningsdam does not hold crowds well and can feel quite crowded with numerous difficult traffic patterns. For example, on Deck 10 overlooking the pool, one must wind a narrow path (barely 2 feet clearance) past immovable hard-as-rocks white couches and deck chairs/beds with curtains dangling between. There are few places to really relax on this ship (especially if you want to be sheltered from sun or wind). The deck chairs around the pool are inexplicably jammed together (about 5 inches apart) and many of the chairs throughout the ship’s lounges are designed very low and with no or very low armrests. Even most of the chairs in the Crow’s Nest were uncomfortable, contrary to our one previous experience on HAL. One thing you will find aplenty are bars including one in the Lido Buffet; from one, from one you are always in sight of the next one. There are dedicated wine blending and whiskey tasting areas which appeared to be underutilized.
FOOD & DINING OUTLETS: (See below for food outlet related service.) The majority of the food on the Koningsdam is mediocre and, as expected, tastes mass-market produced. It is exactly what you would expect when serving 2,500 people. The food in the Dining Room is usually a low-grade cut of meat or poultry with a starch and virtually no vegetables. Everything is extremely salty—you can feel your blood pressure rising with each spoon of soup. Desserts are dry—we stuck to the ice cream sundaes. Every night, we had to ask for an extra bowl of vegetables. The gala night offerings were better with a quality filet and lobster tail available.
The Lido Buffet is an unequivocal disaster. Although the food is fine by mass-market standards, the atmosphere is chaos—there are no trays so one must run from station to station and stand in queues up to 10 deep trying to find a complete meal while juggling plates. The stations are illogically set up so all your food is cold by the time you find or return to a table with the added problem of so many tables being cleared and reset so slowly. The Dive-In pool grill is standard hot dogs and hamburgers with good crispy fries. The NY Deli and Pizza outlet by the pool is a good option for a quick breakfast but serving only two bagel sandwiches and cold cereal (still vastly preferable to the chaos of the Lido). The Deli also serves good sandwiches and OK pizza. We wanted to try the Dutch Café but the line was always really long or they were out of what we wanted.
We experienced two up-charge specialty restaurants: the Pinnacle Grill and the Culinary Arts Center. The Pinnacle Grill filet was good quality and we liked the idea of numerous sides (starches and vegetables) to choose from; it is a shame that this food is considered ‘premium and extra cost’ when just a few years ago, this was the level of cruise ship food in the dining room. The Culinary Arts Center was our best food experience by far and the only one that met our standards for food and service on the Koningsdam. The top-notch food was freshly prepared in the open kitchen; if anything, there was a bit too much food served (a cocktail and wine were included in the upcharge).
SERVICE: Based on our 30 years of traveling at all price points, the service and attitude of ALL the staff on the Koningsdam were the WORST we’ve ever experienced and an all time low! Multiple times a day for 20 days, we had experiences of appalling and unacceptable attitudes and service. HAL should be ASHAMED of the Koningsdam’s lack of customer service! The one exception was our room attendants who were always pleasant, efficient and responsive. The only good dining service we received was at the Culinary Arts Center. The laundry is prompt. However, the rest of the staff (and their processes) are inefficient, indifferent, unhygienic, unresponsive and especially RUDE--always quick to roll eyes at requests and argue. This includes Guest Services and especially the majority of staff associated with any food-related outlet. I left three messages to speak to the Hotel manager about our terrible experiences and never heard a word from him. Even the cruise director is rarely seen and just ignores passengers in passing. Obviously, this lack of customer service is an attitude set from the top down. Examples of poor service we experienced are extremely numerous but here are a few:
--The public restrooms are woefully unattended; one evening I had to report to Guest Services the disgusting condition of a restroom with dirty tissues and towels all over the floor, no toilet paper and dirty sinks;
--When asked a question about our 7 day Norway segment, a Guest Services employee raised her voice and kept arguing that the next segment was 14 days and I was wrong; after she finally checked and answered my question, where was no apology for her tone and behavior;
--The Dining Room ‘Anytime’ seating was total chaos with waits well over an hour some evenings, even when large numbers of tables were empty; the Ocean Bar and nearby corridor where they send people to wait with beepers was standing room only;
--Was served raw Crème Brule in the dining room (yes, burnt sugar on top of a raw egg);
--Was offered a sandwich at the NY Deli that they said was “returned by a lady who didn’t want it;”
--Had an over three-hour dinner in the Dining Room as the server would just disappear as we sat with dirty dishes in front of us for 45 minutes between each course;
--Staff would consistently roll their eyes if we requested anything ‘extra’ like additional vegetables or more potato chips;
--Requesting a table for four at Tea, the manager actually yelled at us that we needed to sit separately and when we insisted on sitting at an empty table for four, he punished us by not serving us for 15 minutes then came back in 5 minutes to snatch away the tea things while we were still eating;
--I suggested to the Lido manager that it would be great to have ice cream and cookies available in the Lido in the afternoon; he very aggressively told me that I should go spend money at the gelato stand;
--And on, and on and on…
Yes, the staff was that rude. In fact, the abominable service was the talk of many passengers even ones we met on excursions; some HAL loyalists said they would never sail the line again. Obviously, this is a company that does NOT have a culture of customer service and does not know how to train and/or motivate staff.
ENTERTAINMENT & ACTIVITIES: The Koningsdam’s World Stage is a wonderful venue. Even with three shows a night, be aware that it fills up quickly. Unfortunately, in 20 days, it was used to good effect only a handful of times. Their ‘Frozen Planet’ production by the BBC with live music by the ship’s orchestra is excellent! Their production shows are good quality even if the choreography is a bit frantic and amateurish. The individual entertainers are pretty much standard mass-market cruise types. The exception was a magic act that was so bad, the audience was streaming out and those that remained offered a few pity claps. The Lincoln Center Chamber ensemble is excellent; as is the BB King group—but unfortunately they are so loud for the venue, it’s impossible to enjoy them for more than a song or two. In the dueling piano lounge, the pianists are good but their voices are weak and repertoire limited.
The Casino is fairly large, allows smoking and appears to be underutilized. Second run movies are shown on a large screen on the pool deck on some evenings (there is no movie theater). Unfortunately, the timing isn't great; one show starts at 7 pm and interferes with dinner and a second show is at 10 pm which runs too late for early touring on a port intensive itinerary. The at-sea daytime activities were a huge disappointment, especially compared to other lines. There was daily trivia but were very few enrichment lectures; almost all of the activities were revenue generators like bingo, paid fitness classes, paid cooking demonstrations, etc. Overall, with virtually no comfortable places to relax and read, no daytime movies and no interesting activities, at-sea days were boring.
ITINERARY & CHRISTENING: The 13 day Christening segment was a ‘one off’ itinerary that repositioned the ship from Italy where it was built to Amsterdam, which will be its homeport. Having traveled extensively in Europe, the ports on this segment allowed us to tour some interesting places we had not visited before such as Seville (from Cadiz) and Santiago Del Compestelo (from Vigo), Spain and Bayeux (from Cherbourg), France. We enjoyed returning to Oslo on the 7 day Norway segment and visiting Flam and Stavenger for the first time; however, the stop at Kristiansand was uninteresting. For exploring the ports, we toured several DIY, took a few private tours, and used a few of the ship’s excursions.
It was interesting to witness a portion of the ship’s Christening ceremony by the Queen of the Netherlands (passengers had to choose which part of the ceremony they would attend). However, the whole occasion was incredibly elitist. It was obvious that the Carnival/HAL corporate representatives that came aboard for two days received vastly better service than the paying passengers.
PASSENGERS: Perhaps because of the Christening, but the vast majority of the passengers on the Koningsdam appeared to be older seniors, age 70 and above. Many people we met were staunch HAL loyalists who rarely traveled any other way. During the 13 day Christening segment, there were passengers from America, Canada, Australia, UK and a large contingent from the Netherlands. On the 7 day Norway segment, the average age dropped a bit (we actually saw a few children) and the number of Dutch passengers increased and seemed to become the majority.
SUMMARY: Based on our 35 years travel experience, after 20 days on the Koningsdam, we will never ail this ship or HAL again. In today’s competitive mass-market cruise industry, there are any number of better alternatives if value for your vacation dollar is a priority and you have standards for the service and food you will accept. Read Less