Number of Cruises: 20+
Cruise Line: Holland America
Sailing Date: December 22nd, 2001
Itinerary: Panama Canal
Embarkation and Debarkation were both nightmares and handled as poorly as anything I’ve read about, but never experienced. I overnighted in Miami and was informed my bags must be picked up from my room by 6:15 and I must be ready to board the bus by 7AM. The bust didn’t leave until 9AM! The organizer was obviously overwhelmed with irritated people and when I asked about the delay, she stated that everyone had to claim their bag before they could board and it was holding them up. No one had informed us of this and they hadn’t built the schedule to accommodate this reasonable security process. She just said it had been like this since 9/11! Are they too stupid to revise their process? I won’t go into the rest of the journey to the ship, but suffice it to say even if the cruise were wonderful, I’d never travel on HAL again for their insensitivity to the burden of getting on their ships. In my 20+ cruises I’ve never experienced the difficulty and hassle of this trip.
The ship itself is new, spotless and filled with interesting art, spots to sit and roomy well thought out accommodations. While the sleeping/dressing area was standard size and roomy enough to move around without bumping into furniture or walls, the bath was a joy. Because I had only a shower stall there was no awkward bath to step over and the floor space was large enough so you could actually dress in the room if needed. I regretted the lack of a nightlight, a simple but wonderful touch when getting up in the night. The only option is a bright light, annoying and unnecessary. The cabin steward was professional, around when you needed and not intrusive. Room service was slow (45 minute wait) and there was no phone directory or direct dial service for anything but information. Which, when busy, made any service or inquiry frustrating to get. The ship had been ¾ full over the past few weeks (9/11?) and I believe they may have been understaffed for the full ship for this cruise.
If you don’t smoke, you may not like the smoking policies. They stick smokers in the front of the dining room so we had to run a gauntlet of pipe, cigar and cigarette smoke to get to our table each night. [The Amsterdam’s dining facilities will become non-smoking areas in May, 2002 – editor’s note] And the layout of the common areas assures you will smell like smoke if you go out in public for long. While the crew was generally friendly, service in the dining area was spotty and they appear understaffed and overworked. There were several signs of stress during the cruise. I cruise for relaxation and high quality food prepared impeccably. I don’t care about the itinerary when cruising the Caribbean as I have all the T-shirts and watches I need. This cruise line is relentless in their pursuit of your shopping dollar. The most obnoxious, loud announcements seemed to incessantly flow from the intercom system. It hurt your ears! So if you’re enjoying a book or a quiet conversation, or even a nap on deck, forget about it. It will be interrupted at some point by “Mr. Bingo or the Gold Chain sale” announcement. Please, if we want to shop, it’s not that hard to find your shops and we read your schedule everyday and know when bingo is.
As for the food, it was mediocre at best. While the variety was good, the preparation was uneven. Most of the red meat was overcooked, the fish varied from raw to tough. Meals arrived at my table generally luke warm. And asking for coffee prior to dessert was not honored. They did throw out a pile of large shrimp and king crab legs (partially frozen) the last two days of a 12 day cruise but otherwise there wasn’t anything I’d go to a local restaurant and pay for if it was offered. The lido breakfast had your normal buffet items and special order eggs but pancakes, waffles and breads were insipid. I ordered toast and English muffins on two occasions only to receive warm bread and muffin. Another irritating item was, although they provided pepper mills, the grind was too large and made food inedible. I brought both these small items up to management and received a promise the toast would be toasted in the future. It wasn’t on the 7 days I remained on ship. The pepper mill was attributed to “corporate decision” and nothing could be done!
I use the exercise facilities, which have an adequate variety of aerobic and weight training items. The stationary bikes and treadmills do not fact a tv. A simple, but nice feature in most health clubs. But, even if you could see a TV, you couldn’t change channels to what you wanted to watch, even if no one else was in the club! I challenged this, but was told the hotel director had made the decision and it was not to be changed. This attitude seemed to be prevalent throughout the ship. Anything that would make the cruise a bit nicer and not cost them any extra, seemed to be a hassle or against “policy”. I appreciate the fact that its their cruise line and they can set the rules anyway they want. In fact I won’t bother them again. I know there were many people who loved the cruise and I wish them many happy returns to HAL. It may be more suited for those who are happy to vacation at Holiday Inns and eat at Country Kitchen. And that’s not to denigrate Holiday Inns or Country Buffet. But they charge a lot less than this HAL cruise cost and are just as good.
If anyone is interested in more info or a recommendation for a truly fine cruise line for similar costs I’d be happy to do so.