This was my response to their offer of "Future Cruise Credit." (They just don't seem to get the gravity of the situation.)
I recently sailed on the Oosterdam out of San Diego on November 23. Yesterday I received Holland America's offer for remuneration for the fiasco involving Club HAL being closed without prior notification. The offer is woefully inadequate.
The biggest problem with the offer is that it in no way recognizes the gravity of the situation. The letter states:
"We are very sorry that your clients were disappointed with the Club HAL program offered on this cruise. We attempt to provide a wide variety of activities that will appeal to the majority of our junior cruisers, with positive, professional supervision. Club HAL welcomes children age 1 to age 6; however, this program is not open to children in diapers or pull-ups. Again, we sincerely regret that your clients were not pleased with Club HAL on this sailing, and we will keep their comments in mind as we endeavor to improve the shipboard experience for all of our valued guests."
The problem was not a "disappointment" with the Club HAL program. It was the cancellation of the program and the fact that no adequate program was substituted for children from ages 7-17. Your own website still describes Club HAL:
"Holland America Line's youth activities program, Club HAL, offers an array of entertaining events for kids and teens ages 3-17, supervised by a full-time, professionally trained staff. They'll have an opportunity to join other kids their age for arts and crafts, sports, video game competitions, scavenger hunts, challenging team games and themed parties. Club HAL is offered on board all ships except for ms Maasdam."
The fact that the Club HAL program was canceled without any prior notification to passengers is false advertising. I paid for a product. That product wasn't offered. I am requesting a refund for that deception. (Incidentally, once we found out about the closure of Club HAL subsequent to boarding the Oosterdam but prior to departure, I requested the option of canceling our cruise and deboarding if we could be given a refund. Priscilla Jimenez, the Guest Relations Assistant Manager aboard the ship said that a refund would not be possible at that time since it was beyond the final payment date.)
The offered remuneration is a credit towards future cruises on Holland America. Without Club HAL, my family will never again sail on Holland America. (We currently have a 24-day cruise reserved out of Venice on June 15. Without this issue being fixed, we will need to cancel that cruise!)
Now let's talk about the problems with the current "High Score!" setup. The biggest problem is safety and security of your cruise passengers. As I stated in my letter posted on CruiseCritic (and soon to be posted on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram) there is no sign-in/sign-out procedure. Kids from 7-17 are free to enter and leave on their own volition. Most 7 year old children are not capable of this type of self-care. In fact, if I were to leave my 7 year old alone at my home alone for an extended period of time, I could be arrested for child endangerment. On an unfamiliar ship thousands of miles from home with thousands of strangers, the dangers much more extreme. Liability-wise, Holland America is setting itself up for a tremendous lawsuit should any child be injured, molested or otherwise harmed after leaving the "care" of the HAL staff in "High Score!"
Additionally, Holland America is assuming that all children ages 7-17 share the same interests. That is blatantly not the case. Elementary, middle and high school students are separated in most schools because of this divergence of interests. Boy Scouts separates the elementary school kids from the middle and high schoolers. Club HAL had three different programs for three different age groups because it recognized this variation. The corporate pencil-pushers who invented the "High Score!" program have obviously never dealt extensively with children of different ages.
And what about the rest of the cruisers aboard the Oosterdam? There were over 300 children aboard the ship the week of November 23-30. Does your average Holland America passenger without children want hundreds of children running around the ship unsupervised? How about the hundreds of extra children in the main dining room every evening? Our normal procedure on cruises is to take our son to eat in the Lido cafe and then take him to Club HAL at 7pm so that my wife and I can enjoy a nice dinner and possibly a show. That was not a possibility on this cruise, so we were faced with the option of taking our son with us to the main dining room or bypassing the more formal dining for the cafe. (The results of this situation during the first formal night were very apparent: hundreds of people had to wait an hour or longer for a table because so many families were dining with their children during the early seating of dinner. And the dining room was a chaotic mess with bored and impatient children crying and running around their tables.)
Or maybe Holland America has made a corporate decision to de-emphasize family cruising in a desire to become more like Virgin or Viking or other cruise lines that don't permit children on board. If this is the path Holland America is taking, that is fine, but you must notify families in advance and offer them refunds.
In the end, Holland America's decision to do away with Club HAL was an unmitigated disaster. Unfortunately, my family was the victim of this rash and poorly implemented restructuring. My family suffered in multiple ways: 1) My son did not get to enjoy the programmed activities with other children in Club HAL but rather had to spend the entire cruise with his parents; 2) My wife and I had no alone time; 3) We were not able to enjoy our dining experiences or evening shows; 4) Since we could not leave our son onboard while in port, we had to cancel an "Intro to SCUBA diving" excursion planned in Mazatlan through an independent travel company. (Luckily we managed to receive a full refund from that company, but, unfortunately, we were not able to enjoy in the experience.)
As I said in the beginning, I am not interested in future cruise credit. I am requesting a refund for a product that was sold to me but not delivered. I also am requesting that Holland America reevaluate the planned elimination of Club HAL fleet-wide. Before my family continues with its planned cruise next summer, we need reassurance that Club HAL will still exist for that cruise.
Lastly, my concerns go beyond compensation for our family's poor experience on the cruise last week. To a person, everyone I spoke with from Holland America regarding this issue (from the former Club HAL staff monitoring the door at High Score!, to the on-ship Guest Relations Manager, to the over the phone Guest Relations support provider I spoke with yesterday) have asked me to make sure that my complaints are heard from the highest levels of Holland America. They all said "Nobody will listen to our complaints and concerns, but they will listen to you." So the reason I am fighting so vociferously about this issue is so that the management of Holland America realize what a colossal cluster-f@&! this transition has been and how poorly thought out the plan for implementation was. You are losing good customers, but you are also losing good employees. Someone from upper management needs to take responsibility for this failure and have the guts to admit that it wasn't a well thought out change. (Think "New Coke" level of failure!)