This was our first cruise with Holland America, and could end up being our last.
This particular cruise departed on Friday, May 6th from Seattle- spending Saturday in Victoria, B.C. - and docking at Vancouver, B.C. on Sunday morning. It was billed as a "Mother's Day cruise", a fun weekend getaway, and an introduction to Holland America.
I should preface at this point by saying that we discovered once onboard that we were joining up with the last segment of a 22 day transit cruise that started in Tampa, through the Panama Canal, and ended in Vancouver. Many people had been onboard for 20 days already. We also discovered that this Seattle-Vancouver portion is a apparently a "maintenance" cruise for most of the public areas. During our cruise - the carpeting was pulled out, the chairs were removed and reupholstered, the ship was being washed with solvents and repainted, etc.
There were 5 of us traveling together, 3 in a suite, and two of us in an inside cabin. I personally stayed in the inside cabin, number 750 - on "A" deck about mid-ship.
Although we had fun - We were really disappointed with the poor service and lack of coordination among the Holland America staff - it became immediately apparent that the majority of them were departing when the boat docked on Sunday, and as such they just stopped caring about their passengers a few days too soon. They did not have their act together in the slightest, and gave the impression of a bunch of high school kids with only 2 days of school left - very, very anxious to leave with no tolerance left for us "passenger" types who only seem to want things from them. Also - just about everything on the ship was closed on Saturday, which was the only "full day" we were onboard. The casinos, the shops, the salon, the spa - everything was closed the entire day. This was not advertised. ("Duh! Who'd want to advertise THAT!" you are probably thinking...) Yeah, well, it would have been good to know beforehand.
I also want to preface that I am not one of those well-to-do types that gives out low ratings because the color of the duvet was slightly too red, or the champagne too effervescent, or whatever. You really have to go out of your way to try my patience, and unfortunately, the Holland America people really did. No one thing really went disastrously wrong, but when you take them all together... well you be the judge.
To counterbalance, many things also went well, and so I will break this out into two sections.
First, here are some of the things that went pretty well:
1) Actual embarkation was extremely smooth. There was no line at all, and as we had all our forms already filled out and ready, we breezed through in under 5 minutes. The Seattle debarkation staff was very friendly and helpful. Zip, zam, and we were on board.
2) After getting on the ship, I forgot my camera at the security station, and didn't realize it until I got to the cabin. The staff already had it stored at the front desk, and I was able to retrieve it with a quick phone call and trip to the front office, much to my relief! (Being a photography nut, you can imagine this would have ruined my trip more than anything.)
3) The cabins themselves were ready when we arrived and very nice. The inside cabin had room for a nice "loveseat" sofa and little table which really made it feel roomier than many inside cabins. The bed was firm but still soft, and the decor was pleasing. The usual "welcome aboard" documents were in place. The suite was quite impressive – a lot of room to spread out and a HUGE balcony.
4) The ship itself is pretty nice. I particularly like the upper "sun dome" pool deck (which I didn't get to try out due to the short nature of this cruise) and the Crow's Nest lounge. The Crow's Nest in particular - I wish every ship had a lounge like this - it's perched right over the bridge and looks forward with some terrific views. Service was also very good in the Crow's Nest - something that stood out markedly from what we experienced everywhere else. Decor across the ship is well done and it's a pretty nice place to be. More upscale than a lot of ships.
5) The ship runs very quietly. There was no discernible engine noise other than a VERY faint hum. I only actually felt the boat "move" twice, both during sharp turns. Granted we weren’t in “open seas” at any time, since the Puget Sound is pretty calm.
6) The food, once you could convince someone to bring some for you, was pretty good. I am sure the most discerning palettes would disagree, but I enjoyed the meals served in the Rotterdam dining room – a nice place! Good views out the rear and sides of the ship. The Lido ice cream parlor was also okay - not particularly premium ice cream, but hey, it's ice cream! (You just walk up and they give it to you! You probably know this! It still excites me though!) The food areas were open throughout the ship at the scheduled times, unlike some of the other services on this cruise.
7) We had room service deliver breakfast on Saturday morning at 9:30am, and it was very good. Hot food, well done, and delivered right on time with a smile. Top marks for room service. I also heard several others saying that room service was one of the highlights of the (longer 22) day cruise.
8) Victoria, our Saturday port of call, went very smoothly. Getting off the ship was easy and quick, as was getting back on. Transportation to downtown was cheap ($5) and readily available. Victoria is a great city to see and we had the entire day to see it – although since we had been here before we opted for about 6 hours and then returned to the ship for dinner, etc.
Here's the things that did not go so well:
1) We embarked at 3:00pm, which we were told repeatedly by communications from Holland America was the earliest time we could possibly get on board the ship. Turns out a good portion of passengers actually boarded about 12:00 with no problems at all, apparently oblivious to the fact that they weren't allowed to, and had time to get a nice lunch. Rather annoying, as we would have liked to have boarded earlier if someone had communicated this. Sometimes being oblivious pays off, I guess.
2) Upon arrival in our cabin, we discovered that the safe was broken. The safe operates by scanning a credit card through it, which locks it. Ours was not working, it just beeped. We tried over 10 different cards. We called the information desk, and they took some convincing, but reluctantly sent down someone to take a look. The lady that arrived then demonstrated by running her safe master key through about 20 times that the safe was working fine - which it was, with her key. I then showed her that it was not working with any actual credit cards - and of course her reaction was to say "you have a bad credit card". So I patiently explained and showed her that none of the other 10 cards we had worked either. Still not believing me, she took out one of her own, tried it, and VOILA - it didn't work. Finally convinced, she left and said she would send down a locksmith.
3) The locksmith arrived, verified that the safe wasn't working with credit cards, removed the safe door and disappeared. We left to look around the ship at that point, and it was reattached upon our return. It still didn't work or anything, but it was back. We just gave up at this point. Especially since we could just store things in the locking night stands, right? Which leads us to:
4) Both the locking nightstands were broken. One of them could simply not be opened, nor the key removed. The other one was jammed also. We were eventually able to get this second one to pop open by bending the key back to be semi-straight. Rather than having to deal with explaining another problem to the front desk again, we made due and kept our valuables in this for the cruise, carrying around the bent key and wrestling it open when necessary.
5) We called for an extra blanket on our second night of the cruise. It arrived quickly and with a smile. We went up to get some drinks in the Crow's Nest. Upon returning, the cabin had been entered and the blanket had been removed. Time elapsed: approximately 30 minutes. I still don't understand this- Did he think we just needed a blanket for a few minutes? It took another phone call and patient explanation to get our blanket back.
6) The "cabin directory" has information like phone numbers, room service menu, stationary, etc in it. Someone had spilled water on the phone number page, rendering it unreadable. I pointed this out to our cabin steward as a friendly "FYI" while leaving the room once. Upon our return, the entire directory had disappeared, never to return again- An innovative, if rather unhelpful solution. I kind of wanted one of the post cards they put in there too, so this was disappointing.
7) On the second evening, we returned after drinks to discover our radio was on, and would not turn off. It's built into the side of the cabin, and none of the buttons were working at all, nor was there any way to "unplug" it. We called to the front desk, and they suggested we just turn it off. This took another patient explanation. Eventually they rousted our cabin steward, who arrived and apologized for leaving the radio on, hit the button to turn it off, and turned to leave. Before he got out, we pointed out that the radio was still, in fact, on. He returned and did the "mash every button possible" dance we had done earlier, without any luck. He left with a promise to have a technician come down. When we returned from dinner and our evening a few hours later, the radio was still on. We called the front desk, and were put on hold for ~30 minutes. Someone finally picked up the phone, and hung up without saying a word. I was in the process of putting my shoes on to walk upstairs to complain when mysteriously, and with no visible trigger, the radio turned just turned itself off. Luckily it stayed that way.
8) A few more cabin nitpicks - all of which would have been completely overlooked if not for the service issues mentioned above. The sink had two settings: off and fire hose. The shower temperature fluctuated rapidly between "Refreshing and Warm" and "The Alaskan Iceberg Experience", which made for a rather musical showering experience. What looked like "dirt" started appearing in the toilet the night before departure. Flushing it to get rid of the dirt would actually get you even more dirt. (This was ship-wide, as it also affected those staying in the suite.) No idea what this was from - maybe the water tanks were running low?
9) Our party members staying in the suite reported a few anomalies also - only 2 of them had their names on the stationary and welcome champagne. The hide-a-bed was not turned down the first night, despite both an individual request to the cabin steward and a phone call asking that it be done. (The second day he asked if there were three of them staying in the room...)
Apparently the entire "white glove" suite service was almost non-existent in the suite. The lady staffing the private lounge spent most of her time talking on the phone about her job worries to someone on the other end, and essentially ignored the first class guests actually in the lounge, much as you would expect from a New York convenience store clerk. In summary, mirroring our own experience, the cabin was nice but the service and coordination was just not there. The crew seemed only dimly aware that someone was actually staying there. Since they paid several hundred dollars more per person for this suite – you can imagine that they were expecting more than this.
10) Our cabin steward never did figure out that we had an 8:00 dinner reservation, not 5:30. He tried on both nights multiple times to come turn down the beds while we were getting ready, at which time we would explain again that we were not eating until 8:00, and may be using the room until then to get ready. He seemed absolutely crestfallen and mystified by this, but that wouldn't prevent him from trying again in half an hour.
11) Speaking of dinner reservations - this turned out to be a comedy of errors. We arrived the first evening at 8:00 which was our scheduled time, and I told the maitre'de that we were in table 47. Unfortunately, table 47 was already occupied. I thought maybe I had the wrong table, so I left to get our reservation card. Sure enough, we had 47. He was very friendly about it, but I got the impression that this sort of thing had never happened before, because he seemed entirely unsure what to do about it. He left for about 10 minutes, and finally returned with room for us against a window table. He told us that the next day we would be in table 17. On Saturday evening, we discovered we had been moved from table 17, and were now to sit at 46. We did so, and it was fine. But through the whole thing, it just seemed like they really had no idea what to do with us, as if we were somehow unexpected to show up for dinner?
12) As for dinner - As I mentioned above, dinner itself was pretty good. The issue I had was in the speed of the service - they really didn't seem to know what to do with us, and serving us took FOREVER. We did not get finished until 10:05 the first night, and 9:50 the second night. And we eat pretty quickly, too. The first night was 45 minutes between the time our salads arrived and the entree finally arrived. That's a long time to wait! At least the "bar server" was very quick; he refreshed our drinks many times during this period.
13) Entertainment on this cruise was comically bad. The show Friday night in the main showroom was so bad as to be funny. No amount of describing it can do it justice, but I will try anyway. Imagine about seven gals/guys in bright purple jumpsuits leaping across the stage doing various pirouettes with big silver balloons while singing "He sure plays a mean pinball". I felt bad for them- in-between my hysterical tears- because a few of them actually had nice voices.
14) Speaking again of entertainment, we had drinks and appetizers in the Crow's Nest during a scheduled "performance" time. There was a trio- keyboardist, singer, and "guy playing with amplifier". Their sole performance over the entire 45 minute period we were there was to say "Testing, 1-2-6, Testing, 1-2-6." into the microphone. They did this every few seconds, for the entire 45 minutes, and "guy playing with amplifier" was not happy. He never got happy, and so the singer would again repeat "Testing 1-2-6" while he frowned at things. They did provide a bit of campy entertainment in the speculation of why 1-2-6, particularly? Were 3-4-5 given the night off? Was 1-2-6 their cabin number? Did they require the proper sequenced response before they would actually sing something? It was a mystery. If you ever do see the 1-2-6 Trio, but sure to let me know if they actually ever play anything, they looked like they might be good.
15) We did not see the cruise director even once on this cruise. We only heard from him over the loudspeaker when he was announcing the mandatory lifejacket drill, or asking cabin numbers to come settle their bill, or when announcing departure numbers. Previous cruise directors have been MUCH more energetic and welcoming (as well as occasionally "visible"), and this guy gave the impression that he had just given up even trying.
16) There was not a SINGLE thing done for Mother's Day. No events, no announcements, no dinner desserts, No "Happy Mother's Day" in the ship notes, NOTHING. Whoever billed this as a Mother's Day cruise did not apparently get to talk to anyone on board the ship??
17) From our inside cabin, there was a VERY loud metal crashing noise late the first night and again early in the morning that bolted me upright out of bed and genuinely concerned me. Turns out this was the apparently how they get the gangplank hatch opened (explosives, perhaps?) because it happened each time. So just fair warning that if you're on the lowest deck on the Veendam and don't react well to occasional loud noises, don't near get cabin 750.
18) The Casino was never open. In retrospect, I understand why since you need to be in international waters to do this, and we really never were. I think they should publicize this though.
19) The Shops and services did not open at all on Saturday. That means we had to do all our shopping immediately after boarding the cruise on Friday night. I presume this was due to the maintenance that was going on? Still pretty disappointing.
20) Due to the maintenance, there were areas of the ship that could overpower you with fumes. The paint fumes wafted up to the deck of the suite and ensured that we didn't spend more than about 30 seconds on the balcony while in Victoria. The cleaning agents used in the promenade deck had a similar effect. Even half of my favorite lounge the "Crow's Nest" had half of it's seats removed at one point. I recognize the need to do cleaning and maintenance, but when everything is being done at once it makes it pretty hard to find a "safe" spot. I imagine they were trying to get the ship ready for the Alaska season, but I will know better next time to beware of these short transit cruises for just this reason.
21) Disembarkation - This is a long section. I will summarize the general attitude of disembarkation as "OKAY PEOPLE, GET THE HELL OFF OUR SHIP!" The gloves were off now, you could tell. They wanted us gone, and they wanted us gone NOW! (Presumably so they could go home too.)
The day before, we were given our debarkation number - 23. In other words, the rats in the ship's hold probably had a lower debarkation number than us. This was fine though, expected with an inside cabin. We aren't morning people and weren't anxious to rush out anyway. We packed up the night before and planned to rise about 7:15.
It was to begin at 8:15am. At 7:20, while my gal was in the shower and I was still asleep, someone showed up at our room to "check the wet bar". He knocked a few times and then just marched right on it, ignoring the "privacy please" marker, turning on the lights, walking right by my gal who was wearing nothing but a hastily covered towel, and ignoring the fact that we did not even HAVE a wet bar. He glanced at something on the counter, grumbled something and then beat a hasty retreat. I don't know who he was, but this guy should get fired - he was VERY rude and definitely invaded our privacy. I wish I'd gotten his name.
Then began the announcements from the cruise director, which consisted of an hour of nothing but calling off a number of cabins who had to come down and settle their accounts. This consisted of several hundred cabin numbers, which he would repeat every 5 minutes with more and more urgency. (".. and finally cabin 820. We strongly insist that you to come to the front desk. Now. Really.") You could tell he was tired.
Finally, at about 8:20, they began disembarking, starting with number one. The instructions given us, which I will quote verbatim here, read as follows. "Holland America is concerned about the comfort of our guests, and would therefore like to invite you to remain in your cabin until your disembarkation number has been called. Please do not congregate in the public areas of the ship, as this will slow down the disembarkation process." We figured it would be about 10:00am for our number.
So at 8:25, our cabin steward showed up, and was very concerned that we were still in our cabin. We explained to him that we were number 23, and would probably be there for some time. This alarmed him greatly, and he urged us to go upstairs to the Lido deck to get some breakfast, so that he could prepare the cabin for arriving guests. I said we'd be happy to, except that according to the schedule breakfast ended at 8:00. He assured us that breakfast was being served all morning, and we could remain on the Lido deck until our number was called.
So we took our belongings, left the cabin and went up to the Lido deck where - SURPRISE! - breakfast was no longer being served. We were given a few sidelong glances by the crew who were obviously concerned with our "congregating" in public areas. At this point, we joined our suitemates (debarkation number ONE, but who were patiently waiting for us), and we decided that we had just been upgraded to first class. We marched off the ship together, ignoring requests for our debarkation number.
22) The pièce de résistance was parking. As mentioned, this was not a round trip cruise, it was one way from Seattle to Vancouver. We parked at the Seattle cruise ship terminal on Friday night, and took a train from Vancouver to Seattle to get back. After parking, we inquired to make sure that we would be able to get our car out on Sunday night. “Oh yes, it will be open at that time” we were assured by the port staff.
It wasn’t. It was completely locked. We were fortunate only in that a man who had the same problem had arrived earlier and had finally managed to get the gate codes to let us out of the parking lot. Since the “dock area” of Seattle is not particularly known as a safe spot to be around 10:00pm on a Sunday night, we were very fortunate he was there.
If you take a one way cruise from Seattle, and park at the cruise ship terminal, do NOT BELIEVE THEM if they say you will be able to get your car out of parking! Park somewhere else! I’d only park here again on a roundtrip cruise.
In summary, this was not Holland America at its finest. The combination of this being the "end-of-the-line" for most of it's crew, combined with the maintenance work being done, probably make this type of transit cruise one to avoid for the future. I don't think this cruise was representative of most Holland America cruises, but it could be representative of how badly things COULD go. Since a cruise line is only as good as its worst cruise, I have to give this one pretty low marks.
We actually had a pretty good time, despite what this review may indicate - as most of our time was NOT spent dwelling on any of these problems - and as said earlier nothing by itself was too serious. It was just the combination that gave things a sour flavor.
But our fun was in spite of service we received, not because of it. I definitely will be trying out some of the other cruise lines before venturing back out with Holland America again.