Number of Cruises: 8
Cruise Line: Holland America
Sailing Date: June 2nd, 2007
Itinerary: Canada/New England
This was my 8th cruise. I took this
cruise with my 80 year old father so that he could enjoy a much needed
vacation. Previously I've sailed with Princess and will note some differences
for comparative purposes.
Embarkation from Montreal was a breeze. We were only about 10 minutes in line and then on the ship.
First, the ship itself. An older ship, the cruise line has kept her in good repair overall. We had inside cabins which were very spacious (much larger than the cabins on Princess) with loads of storage space. Plenty of drawers, closet space, and the suitcases fit under the beds. The shower area was adequate (larger than on any Princess ship) and flat screen TV's with DVD players were provided in each room. However, there was no mini fridge in the cabin, so for those guests wishing to chill their white wine or soft drinks this was inconvenient. Of note, the white towels provided in the staterooms needed to be bleached back to their original bright color. I had several face cloths and towels that were stained and many of the towels looked dull and dingy in appearance. NEVER have I seen that on any Princess ship.
The cabin stewards did make some delightful animals out of towels during each evening cleaning of the cabins, the best of which was the elephant...so cute! Princess does not provide this service sadly. And it is such a nice added touch.
The overall decor of the ship was not so pleasant in comparison to the Princess line. Where Princess sticks to soft, muted colors in an elegant fashion and provides a sense of total relaxation, Holland goes with garish jewel tones of dark plum, deep (almost black) blues, and then throws in gold/orange. I found a lot of the public areas gloomy with poor lighting. The atrium area feels like you're in a cave.
The pool area is nothing short of boring with only a single statue of dolphins and two spindly palm trees decorating the deck area.
The chairs/sofas in the public areas were not that comfortable with the tub style chairs being too low-backed and hard, and the sofas being awfully deep-seated.
The dining room is two tiered with large picture windows that provided lovely views of the sunset each evening. But the overall decor again is overbearing with dark colors and heavy ornate ornaments. Overall I'd have to say that Princess is more tastefully appointed than HAL. Enough about the decor, but it does affect your sense of relaxation.
One difference I noted in the public
washrooms was the use of face cloths to dry your hands. While this is a nice
touch, it seems very environmentally unfriendly to be creating so much extra
laundry. Paper towels are recyclable and it was rather odd that they had signs
in each stateroom bathroom asking you to be aware of wasting water and yet they
use so much extra water in washing these face cloths?.
Now the food. Overall, the food was great. The Lido buffet is not self serve, except for the salad area at lunch time and the desserts. There are various stations for all meals, with Asian foods, pasta, made-to-order sandwiches (although limited as to types available), and meat vegetable hot meals. For breakfast, eggs can be ordered (fried or omelet), but all other foods are pre-prepared. The staff serves all the food (which is good from an infection control perspective), but does create almost a cafeteria type lineup for the breakfasts (although you can go to the main dining room and order a breakfast or call room service for an in-cabin meal free-of-charge if you wish). The service is quick however, with table side service for tea/coffee for those who don't want to get their own at those stations. They close for only an hour between breakfast/lunch and lunch/dinner and then close completely by around 1am until the morning.
The pool area has a grill for burgers & dogs, and also has a self serve area for tacos and tortillas for the better part of the day.
The dining room food was excellent at first, but started to slide downhill towards the end of the 7 day cruise. Some of the meat in the entrees was tough, and the starters became less tasty. One evening was the Chef's dinner, and overall it was awful. Quite a surprise because up until then the food had been wonderful.
Surprisingly, they only offer 3 course meals for dinner, with starter, entree, and dessert. Most other lines offer appetizer, soup or salad, entree and dessert. While you could order two starters, this wasn't advertised, so for first time cruisers, they probably were unaware this option existed and the waiters did not encourage it.
Service was slow in the dining room, with almost 2 hours for each meal. This interfered with the ability to attend some of the shows/events taking place in the evening.
A BBQ was provided on the lido deck at 4:30 pm one day...odd time considering first seating for dinner was at 6 pm. And there was a food extravaganza at 10:30 pm one evening with mostly desserts.
Holland clearly adheres to the old time cruise mentality that cruising is all about the food. They need to rethink this because people don't eat as much as they used to in the early days of cruising and even most of the elderly folks on board did not partake in these extra eating opportunities.
One annoying thing was that the dining
room staff had already entertained us at the Chef's dinner, but on the last
night started with getting everyone to cheer loudly about how they had enjoyed
their cruise, the food, and then the service provided by the dining staff. This
was clearly a ploy to not-so-subtly hint for extra tips in addition to the $10
per person per day that was tacked onto your onboard account.
Activities on board are fairly good, especially on the at-sea days. Trivia games, cooking lessons in their new culinary arts centre, a movie, Scattegories game, towel folding demos, bingo, etc. I was not pleased with the bingo games. On Princess, you pay $10 for single cards and $20 for triple cards and there are always 5 games at each session. There are also standard prizes with $50-125 dollar prizes for the first 4 games, and either the jackpot (which builds if not won) or $150 for the 5th game. HAL only provides 4 games at each session for the same price, and at two of the session offered only a single game for that price. The prizes for the 4 game sessions were totally dependant upon the number of participants, and the single games were for a free cruise, and a jackpot of $1500 respectively. Considering the average age of the passengers was well over 65, it was surprising that not that many people participated in bingo. But then again, a lot were repeat HAL cruisers and maybe they already knew that the prizes were not as good as in days gone by. I felt we were cheated for our money, especially on those two special games. The free cruise I could understand, but why did they "cheap out" on the jackpot game?
The casino ran hot and cold in terms of
your chances of winning, but there were lots of slot machines considering the
overall size of the ship, with plenty of penny and nickel slots available.
Shops on board were pretty much typical of any cruise line, although the clothing selections were clearly geared to an elderly clientele. They do have a wonderful selection of costume jewelry sets (necklace and earrings) for $10 each as well as more dressy sets for reasonable prices.
Now the ports.
Quebec City is a wonderful taste of Europe and has a special ambiance not found anywhere else in Canada. Cobblestone streets with well preserved stone buildings, along with excellent street performers and artistry painted on the sides of buildings make this a delightful cruise port stop. We didn't take an organized tour, but just explored on our own. It is hilly and very windy in spots, but overall an easy city to explore on your own. Contrary to some opinions, the merchants and city folks quickly switch to English (you may hear that they will only speak French....not true!!!) The sidewalk cafes provide a sense of being in France, with wonderful restaurants and shops all close to the cruise port.
We were very, very disappointed that we did not stop at Charlottetown PEI. This cruise was supposed to dock at the pier, but they were renovating/repairing the pier and thus we were to tender ashore starting at 11:30 am. But at 10 am the captain announced that the swells were too high and the winds too strong to allow for safe tendering. He said they had been monitoring the situation for a couple of hours and didn't expect things to improve, so we sailed around the island for the next two hours. However, the sea was fairly calm with NO whitecaps at all, and the winds were not that bad. I've seen far worse conditions at Grand Cayman in the Caribbean when tendering was allowed. It was very apparent that the conditions had improved greatly within 30 minutes of the announcement, but no attempt was made to return to the tendering area to reassess the situation. They continued to claim 7 foot waves on the captains log channel of the stateroom TV's and yet we continued to see no white caps.
Sydney was the next stop and we had arranged through a private tour company to take a mini-Cabot trail tour for 3 hours in the morning. The guide was great, typical salt-of-the-earth Cape Bretoner, who was very knowledgeable about the history of the area and provided a wonderful running commentary. Having previously driven the entire Cabot Trail (which take over 8 hours), this admittedly is not the most spectacular portion of the trail, but nevertheless quite scenic.
In the afternoon, we went to the fiddle
playing excursion offered exclusively to HAL passengers right inside the cruise
terminal. This is a wonderful time, with the performers being so friendly and
talented. It provided a true taste of Cape Breton.
Halifax was the next stop and again we didn't take a ship's tour. Right outside the terminal there are double- decker buses available for a Hop On, Hop Off tour. They provide a guided tour for 1 1/2 hours through the city, with at least 12 stops available along the way. You can take the whole tour, decide which stops interest you the most, and then get on and off at the various sites. The buses come every 30 minutes, providing plenty of time at each of the stops. We did the entire tour, went back on the ship for lunch, and returned to the bus to go to some of the stops. For $49 each, it is a far better bargain than any excursion offered by the ship for exploring the city. The ship also offers excursions to the infamous Peggy's Cove, which for those who haven't been before is also a wonderful site to see.
Next was Bar Harbor Maine. A true taste of quintessential Maine, this would be a wonderful place in the autumn with the blazing colors of the fall season. We took the Lobster Bake/Acadia National Park tour with the ship and it was wonderful. They give you lunch with mussels (as many as you can eat...my dad had 3 bowls!!), fresh steamed lobster (or a huge New York strip steak for non-fish eaters), corn-on-the-cob, coleslaw, bread, potato, and home made blueberry cake. Yummy!! Then we boarded the bus again for a great tour through Acadia Nat. Park and went up to the summit of Cadillac Mountain which provided some spectacular views. The guide provided a very knowledgeable commentary along the way, with great stories about the history of the area and wonderful photo ops. A highly recommended tour.
We took a city tour in Boston due to a later flight to return home. Wish we'd had more time there, it is a marvelous city and the architecture is spectacular with so much historical background. Unfortunately the weather was not so good, cold and a bit wet, but a good tour overall. They do drop you at the airport before 12 noon, so if you are choosing a return flight time, you are safe to book as early as 1:30 pm.
Would I return to HAL again?? Probably not. My husband and I have always been happy with Princess, but would like to explore other lines. However, with HAL prices often being so much higher than other lines, especially for non-Caribbean itineraries, I feel that you get more "bang for your bucks" from Princess. Also, they do tend to have a very elderly cruise clientele, and we're not quite there yet!! And again, the decor of the ships in the Princess fleet is more appealing than HAL. I truly feel that decor affects your overall enjoyment, which is the main reason we will NEVER go with Carnival cruises (pink and orange together??? YUCK!!!)
Would I recommend this itinerary? Yes, it does provide a taste of Eastern Canada and New England and is a delightfully relaxing atmosphere both on and off the ship. I am not convinced that cruising is the way to see the world because of the limited time at the ports, and do feel that cruising is more about vacationing than traveling. But for those who want the convenience of only unpacking once, having a "home-base" to return to each day, and still want to sightsee, this itinerary is wonderful.