Number of Cruises: 6
Cruise Line: Holland America
Sailing Date: February 16th, 2006
Itinerary: Mexican Riviera
After several cruises (all with Holland America) we decided to try a shorter cruise as a mid winter get-away.
San Diego was nice on arrival (we came two days early to play in town). Temperature was in the mid 70's and we had a good time at the S.D. Aquarium. Note - our travel agent arranged for our ticket purchase before we arrived so we showed up with two 'special tickets in hand that had to be presented to the customer service desk. Big mistake - would have been much quicker to buy tickets there; and no money was saved.
We arrived at the dock around 11:00 am and were fully on board by 11:30. We found this process to be as smooth as it gets. H.A. has clearly tried hard to remove the barriers to getting your holiday moving forward. One note - you can fill out a number of forms from the HA web site, and doing so makes things go even quicker.
Our experience has been that the shorter the cruise, the younger the crowd. In line with this - this cruise was typical. We are in our mid 40's and prefer an age group of 40 or more for a number of reasons. First, while this is not a universal constant, folks 40+ are more likely to take formal night a bit more seriously. It's a bit disheartening to be get dressed up for dinner and then see teen-agers trying to enter the dining room with ripped jeans. Also, cocktail hour is more likely to include a half dozen good ol boys dropping boiler makers rather than suits and dresses sipping martinis. I don't mean to seem snobbish, but part of the fun is putting on a bit of ritz and it can be an uphill battle on shorter cruises.
We had a verandah cabin number 1083 which wasn't overly spacious, but was more than ample, good size shower (bathtub – first time) and a sitting area in addition to a comfortable.
We switched to the late dinner, lower restaurant, table 104. Our waiter was pretty good and the wine steward tried hard to please but both were clearly too busy. In spite of a few empty tables at all meals, our service team had a real tough time keeping up. Usually, the wine did not make it to the table until close to the end of dinner. The food was great though I thought it was not terribly warn on many occasions. I sent a pasta dish back as it tasted like it had been boiled up the day before. The replacement steak was great. By and large most people around us felt that sea food was best left alone as temperature problems were common. Beef was the highlight for most it would seem.
We never did try the Pinnacle lounge – primarily because the extra charge felt like a bit of a gouge. If we are expected to wear suits to dinner, I expect the chef’s to show up with some dazzle of their own.
HA has an aggressive search policy to prevent you from bringing your own liquor on board. I am pretty sure I could have brought a gun in from ports much easier than a bottle of Tequila. This is primarily to keep you running up a bar tab and at $5.50 for a cocktail you will generate some serious tabs by the end of the cruise.
Our favorite lounge area has always been the Crow’s Nest (Top of the boat). Usually we manage to connect with a few of the waiters and as a rule you can expect great conversation and the occasional piece of origami. Oddly enough this did not happen this time. I thought that service while punctual was much less friendly. You were much less likely to see an ashtray emptied or a table cleared off this time.
The evening entertainment was pretty good though no one would think they were seeing a major production. Most of the acts/performers were a bit unpolished though the two fellows from England did do pretty good justice to a number of Beetles tunes.
The ship was very clean though there was always an area somewhere that seemed to be going through some maintenance. Most notably, the prom deck (we like to walk circuits) always seemed to be blocked off.
I dropped 30 bucks at the bar blackjack machine in about 30 minutes and decided to cut my losses after that. I talked to a few folks that played there as well and all felt that you are better off spinning the bottle in Vegas. You will not see pay-out percentages posted on ship casinos and I would expect that they are much lower than proper gambling halls.
Near the end of the cruise we were very surprised to see that no tipping practice was dropped in favor of a $10/day per person charge on your ship bill. This really miffed me as I thought it was one of the factors that made H.A. stand out in the past. We have always tipped but this type of mandatory tax was a real nuisance and in retrospect, the drop in service levels must be related to the this type of gouge practice. In spite of this extra charge, you were still encouraged to tip again if you felt someone had done a good job. We did not feel that an additional tip was warranted anywhere.
On another note, long time cruisers are given various levels of achievement and status. On our second and third cruise there were some real benefits to this which included a shipboard credit and cabin upgrades. Apparently there is no longer any advantage to being a long time customer as the only real benefit we saw this time was a small pin acknowledging that we had passed 50 days on board.
We took three tours, one at each of the three ports. All three seemed to include a diversion to a shopping area as their major component. If I were to do this trip again I would hire a cab for the day instead.
Getting off the ship was very smooth and quick though if you are from Canada, be prepared for a 6:00 am visit with customs. US nationals were not required to attend this.