My cruising history is Holland America - New Amsterdam many years ago, Royal Carib - Navigator of the Seas in 2003, Princess - Diamond Princess in 2004, and Princess - Caribbean Princess in 2005.
I am 25 and was traveling with my mother who is in her late 40s.
We arrived at Canada Place Pier at about 11:30, and were on the ship about 15 minutes later. By far the easiest embarkation I have ever had. The rooms were not ready, so we had lunch at the lido and explored the ship some before being able to get into our room. We were in a category SS suite. It was large, but overcrowded with furniture a bit. The first thing we did was to rearrange some of the furniture to give ourselves a little more room to move about. The beds were very comfy, there was alot of storage space, the balcony was decent sized (although I have been spoiled by the oversized balcony I had on the Caribbean Princess). It had a table, two chairs, and two more chairs with foot rests. The bathroom was truely the best thing about this room category. It had two sinks, two vanities, a full sized jet tub, and a decent sized shower. In the room, they had very good movie selections including Shrek 2, National Treasure, The Aviator, Ocean's 12, The Forgotten, and more that I just cant recall right now.
The ship had a great layout. Decks 1, 2, and 3 have a great flow and I found it difficult to get lost. It was another story trying to find my room sometimes! I am not a big fan of art deco, but the ship did have some pretty and unique areas (lido, pinnacle, observation deck.) The atrium is very understated and doesn't feel like a point of focus. Many of the areas had a small-comfortable feeling to them. My favorite bar was the Sports Bar...not because of decor at all, but they staff there was very nice. My overriding impression of the ship was that it had a great layout but a bad interior decorator. The art work throughout the ship saved the decor instead of adding to it in my mind.
The staff was 99% fantastic. Maria at the Sports Bar was the best. The lido, casino, bar, lounge, and Pinnacle staff were all wonderful. Superior to all other lines in my opinion. I am certain that the dining room staff was also wonderful, but my particular waiter was.....well a jerk. We had dinner at the Pinnacle our first night. The staff there was perfect - attentive and nice. The second night we went to the dining room. Our waiter did not introduce himself (which isn't a big deal, but is why I cant put his name into this review.) I ordered for dinner only two entrees (a pasta dish and prime rib.) When I was ordering, he asked me "you want to order two entrees?" in a tone of disbelief and in front of our table mates who were strangers to us. Later after serving the main dishes, my mother asked him for butter for her baked potato. He never brought it or sour cream, chives, etc. A little bit later when I was served my prime rib, I asked for some more au jus (as there was on a drizzle on the plate). He came back with an entire gravy boat of au jus, and kept pouring and pouring and pouring it on my plate (even after I had asked him to stop twice.) Everything was covered in au jus (prime rib, potatos, and veggies. He then asks me "is that good or would you like me to go get more?". It was truely unbelievable. The next night we ate at the buffet and had two days of his tip removed from our account. We gave his tip instead to Maria and other great crew members on the ship.
We both found the food to be superior in many areas on this cruise. The cookies, danishes, and desserts were to die for. The pasta dishes were fab, and the sauces added great flavor to the meats. The Pinnacle was well worth the cover charge. I found the lido to be well organized. The food was fresh, hot, and tasty. The only possible complaint I would have about the buffet is that there were limited selections at times (such as the night we had dinner there.)
The nightly entertainment was lacking on this ship. The piano bar guy just wasn't very good. They only had one main show a night (in the Vista Lounge). They also had some other random bands playing at different venues at different times. This is really the only area of Holland America's product that really needs some upgrading. The first night of the cruise they had a ventriloquist, the next night a Vegas-style show, and the third night a comedian. We saw the comedian (which was funny), but I have a feeling that some of the older passengers on board wouldn't agree with me=) The Queen's Lounge (which is an ugly but well layed out second venue for night time entertainment) was almost always not in use.
I found the drink specials...unusual. Cosmos, Mojitos, and some lemon drink. On average, the drinks were way overpriced and weak. Pushing drinks as a revenue stream doesn't seem to be in Holland America's business plan.
Disembarkation was a breeze. From the time our color was called, it took about 15 minutes to get off the ship and get through customs. I really enjoy Holland America's policy of allowing the passengers to stay in their staterooms until their color is called to disembark the ship.
In review, food was good to great, services was almost without exception great, ship has good layout but needs a new decor scheme, entertainment lacking.
To compare this experience with Royal Caribbean and Princess - Holland America is superior in food, service, ship layout, and embarkation/disembarkation processes. It is lagging FAR behind in the entertainment department. Drinks are priced high and come light.
PS - on the subject of decor, the blue and gold benches have got to go!