Number of Cruises: 4
Cruise Line: Holland America
Sailing Date: February 4th, 2005
Itinerary: round trip San Diego-Hawaii
Embarkation day (every cruiser’s least favorite time) in San Diego was well-handled by friendly, competent staff. If you have internet access, save time by filling out all the immigration and information forms online; take hard copies with you in case your internet forms go astray (ours didn’t) or they want personally signed forms (they did). Also, select your onshore excursions online to avoid disappointment because the tours you wanted were already booked when you got aboard. This procedure is very efficient. All our excursion tickets were in our cabin upon arrival (already charged to our credit card before sailing date), and the one excursion where we were waitlisted was cleared on the second day at sea, tickets delivered and billed to our onboard account.
The Statendam had one more Hawaiian cruise after ours, and was then slated to go to Vancouver for an 18-day refit and renovation. Some hints from the ship’s first officer, in charge of coordinating plans for the refit, indicated this will be a major task, replacing carpet and repainting and re-plastering almost everywhere, with complete rebuilds of such areas as The Crowsnest and the WahJang Theatre. Since she’s been in service for 13 years, Statendam was showing signs of needing the work – some minor scars on the walls in our cabin; occasional stains on carpeting in the corridors that no amount of cleaning could remove; a few rust stains on the metalwork of our balcony; a heating/cooling/ventilating system that kept some cabins (and the Rotterdam dining room) too cool for comfort (we heard many complaints about this one). Don’t get me wrong – the housekeeping staff were doing their usual excellent job, but it was becoming an uphill battle. There was also an always noticeable but not objectionable vibration in our cabin whenever we were under way. That vibration did get annoying near the Front Desk, where the atrium railing shook noticeably. I hope the refit solves that problem, too.
Last year (due to a surprise cabin up-grade on Coral Princess) we were introduced to balcony staterooms, and we fell in love with them – if we can’t have a balcony, we would give serious consideration to not going. We had a verandah suite (Holland America’s term) on Statendam for this cruise, and are more convinced that’s the only way to go. Yes, they’re more expensive, but, with careful timing and prudent shopping, they can be had for not too much more – worth it, in our estimation.
We are beginning to prefer smaller ships. Our cabin on Statendam (1200 passengers) was quite central – one deck below the Lido deck (pools and cafeteria), two decks above the Rotterdam dining room, and almost exactly midships. The result was we seldom used the elevators and getting from point A to B was fairly quick. On Coral Princess last year (2000 passengers, a Panamax ship), we seemed to spend half our time riding elevators and walking endless corridors.
The cruise itself was 4 days at sea from San Diego to the Hawaiian Islands, several ports of call in the islands, then 4 days at sea back to San Diego. We wondered how we would pass the time going and coming, but it was fine. The days at sea give you time to unwind and relax and enjoy the many activities the ship offers. There is plenty to do if that’s your thing – we tend toward the lazy end of the spectrum, and that was fine, too. We also wondered about the open sea, since (in our opinion) we had never really cruised the open ocean yet – the Caribbean and the Alaskan inside passage don’t really qualify. No problem – the stabilizers took care of the rolling and the pitching on the long Pacific swells caused us no queasy stomachs. We’re starting to feel like ‘old salts.’
I have a bone to pick with Holland America, and every other cruise line we’ve travelled on. Passengers are not allowed to bring their own liquor on board. What they buy ashore, as well as any purchased at onboard duty-free stores, is impounded and returned to them on their last night aboard. The sole purpose that I can see for this practice is the cruise line’s desire to fleece the passengers for over-priced drinks (+ 15% gratuity). I resent this! Making a profit is one thing; taking advantage of a captive clientele is quite another.
Something we do like is the increasingly common practice of charging $10/day to each shipboard account for tips to service staff. One can always go to the Purser and have that amount modified, or removed completely, but we like it. We trust the cruise line to fairly apportion the money amongst its staff, and we can (and do) add an extra tip where we feel it is deserved. We do wonder if this practice might be used by cruise lines to keep service staff salaries low instead of rewarding good service – but we wonder about that wherever tipping has become the custom, whether afloat or ashore.
On Holland America ships they are sloooowly letting go of some traditions that should be long gone. The idea of having 2 or 3 formal nights per 7-day cruise is passé, in my opinion, but I have to add that my wife still loves them. Options are finally becoming available to the assigned seating for dinner.
Meals. The selection at the cafeteria on the Lido deck was tremendous – anyone should be able to find plenty of food to his/her liking, and it’s all fresh and tasty. I’m a steak-and-potatoes kind of guy, and the Rotterdam dining room seemed fine to me (except for the temp – see elsewhere). The service was very good, though there wasn’t the personality and detailed knowledge of the menu that I’ve seen from staff on other ships. My wife was disappointed that the food selection was not broader and the presentation lacked imagination, and we heard more than a few others make the same comment. Our wine steward was a wine server – if you want some wine, ask me and I’ll get it, otherwise I’ll ignore you. On other Holland America ships, your wine steward was attentive, knew his wines, got to know your tastes, and could offer suggestions and alternatives (O, Djati, where are you?). My wife took me to the Pinnacle Grill for Valentine’s Day ($20 surcharge). Outstanding personal service and we had the tenderness filet mignons (I had the 10 oz. Pinnacle cut) we ever tasted!
There was plenty to do aboard ship, but we are not big on staying busy all day long. With a verandah stateroom, ‘staying home’ can also be pleasant. The stage shows and entertainment acts were all good. The shows were definitely off-Broadway, but we enjoyed them all and were endlessly impressed by the enthusiasm and endurance of the cast. It would have been nice to have some shows slanted more toward our age (early 70’s), and we certainly were far from being the oldest onboard. Because it was February and school was in, children and young families in general were not very numerous.
There was some sickness (respiratory infection) on board during the cruise (I suspect the recent American variation of flu that has been spreading quickly from California eastward and northward), and hand-washing stations were readily available everywhere that food was served. We learned that a visit to the ship’s doctor costs US$78.65, billed to your onboad account (a bit of a shock to Canadians), and that all Holland America ship’s doctors and nurses are Canadian or American. Crew doctors are usually Philippino or Indonesian, because most of the crew are one or the other. I had checked out Statendam’s sanitation record online before booking the cruise, and found that, except for some less-than-stellar reports when she first went into service in 1992, she has had an impressive record for cleanliness and compliance with regulations, with particular mention about meticulous record-keeping. She now consistently scores at least 95 (usually 98 – 99) out of 100 on sanitation inspections.
Our onshore excursions were generally worth the money, and interesting. One glaring exception, was the luau at Paradise Cove while we were in Honolulu -- in our opinion it was strictly a money-grab, with no good food and little authentic Hawaiian culture – don’t waste your time and money. The 4WD off-road adventure from Nawiliwili Harbour on Kaua’i was well worth the cost – we saw some unusual back-country that can be appreciated in no other way, and our driver/guide was most interesting and knowledgeable. We did not go on the submarine underwater adventure, but heard good reports. On Maui, the Maui Ocean Center was excellent (a photographer’s paradise if you like colorful fish and sharks and manta rays and tortoises), and the included plantation tour was also very good.
Would we sail Statendam again? Yes. Hawaii? This was our second time there; that’s enough.
Holland America may be getting a little stodgy, but over the years they’ve learned how to provide excellent hospitality and service. We wanted to try to smuggle our cabin steward, “Edy”, off the ship in our luggage, but figured the captain would object. We’d be especially interested in changes the renovations have brought about in the grand old lady.