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FamilyCruiser

Age: 41

Occupation:Executive

Number of Cruises: 1

Cruise Line: Holland America

Ship: Statendam

Sailing Date: n/a

Itinerary: Alaska


The Ride of the Ancient Mariners

We rode the m.s. Statendam on a seven-day northbound Alaska cruise. It was our first cruise. It was definitely our last HAL cruise and probably our last cruise period (at least for the next 30 years).

If you are traveling with a family (we had our 9 year old and our 13 year old along) recognize that HAL is a floating retirement community. The facility, the programs, the shore excursions, the food, the onboard schedule, just about everything is designed to appeal to the 60-80 crowd. And clearly it does. My best guess on the average age of our mid-summer cruise was around 70. So do not come here looking for a family friendly vacation or if you are under the age of sixty.

Facilities

The Statendam had just come out of dry dock a month before our cruise – having been “upgraded” to HAL’s Signature of Excellence program. I shudder to imagine what it looked like before the upgrade. But after the upgrade, the ship is still dated and run-down. Broken tiles, worn carpets, scratched paint, etc. all screaming out “please repair me.” The carpeting and fixtures look like something off the set of the Brady Bunch (and I am not referring to the sometimes quirky Nordic design style – which I ordinarily like – the boat’s interior decor looks left-over from the 1970s and it probably is).

The staterooms are, in a word, terrible. We opted for two mid-priced (ocean view) cabins side-by-side (one for us and one for the kids) on the Lower Promenade. The bathrooms are very dated and if you are over 6ft tall plan to shower on your knees. The rooms are extremely small. One cannot open any two doors simultaneously (front door, closet, bathroom) because there is not space. There is 16 inches of floor space on each side of the bed. My wife and I took turns getting dressed.

The new Library is nice but otherwise the public spaces are average Holiday Inn-grade places. The rigid eating and showtime schedule (you are scheduled for one of four seatings at dinner and one of two seatings for the shows) appears designed to overcome the insufficient space in the main dining room and theater. There are a number of stores on board which could and should be ripped out to expand the public space. There is a movie theater on board which seems more than a bit pointless when the same movies are showing on the televisions in the room. The handful of lounges are fine but be forewarned that at some point your head may explode as you listen to a Bill Murray grade lounge singer belt out golden oldies. We could not summon up the courage to go to the Crows Nest for the Octogenarian disco night.

Onboard Program
If the facility is a weakness, it is exacerbated by a poorly coordinated onboard program and lousy communication. I’ll let the basic daily schedule speak for itself:

1) Assemble for shore excursion ~7:30 - 8:00 am
2) All aboard ~5:00 pm
3) Younger children’s program (ages 7-12) 7:30 pm – 10 pm
4) Teen program (13-17) 9pm – midnight
5) Dinner - 8:15 seating
6) Showtime - 10:15 – 11:15
7) Late Show - 11:30 start

I know that any parent will immediately realize how absolutely idiotic this schedule really is. Your older child sits in the cabin waiting for the teen program to start while the younger child is gone. The younger child returns, all wound up, at 10pm while you try to get her into bed in time to get some sleep for a 6:30 am wakeup. Neither can attend the family dinner unless you “make them” miss the children’s activities. The teen does not want to return until midnight – because that is what everyone else is doing. You get the idea. The staggered start times mean you never eat as a family, the kids are constantly tired, and you never get to see a show.

So if you must take a HAL cruise with kids (and I really, really recommend against it) then be absolutely certain you get an early seating for dinner and you set expectations that the kids will not be able to participate in the late-night activities on shore excursion days.

Shore Excursions
And speaking of shore excursions, this is one area where the HAL staff was particularly unhelpful. We struggled throughout to get any decent information much less any helpful service. This held from the time we started pre-booking before the cruise until the several times we queried the Shore Excursions desk on board. Maybe we expect too much, but we thought the Excursions group would act like a concierge at a decent hotel – making recommendations, trying to assist in making the schedule work, etc. The HAL excursions folks acted instead like sales agents.

Excursion information is sparse on the web site, even more sparse on the ship. We got to enjoy our excursions but no thanks to HAL. And if we had been a bit better informed we would have been able to enjoy our port visits much more (and we’d have paid less). So if you decide to go with HAL, do your own research before you leave, book with whatever tour company is offering the best tours to serve your interests, and do not expect very much of the excursion staff.

Food
The food is ok. The main dining room dinner equates to a decent hotel restaurant. It ain’t Spagos at the Maui Four Seasons, but it equals the average Hilton Resort. The Lido restaurant is a Denny’s grade cafeteria – tolerable junk food, usually hot, generally pretty quick. But people do not seem to care in any case. There is a quantity equals value mentality that permeates the menus and the selection and seems to suite the clientele just fine. I lost my appetite after watching one of the many extremely obese people on the ship order – I am not making this up – “cherry pie, chocolate cake, two cookies, and ice cream” for desert.

Extras
A number of people have commented on the extras on your cruise. For us, these amounted to around $700 excluding any purchases from the gift shop, shore excursions, etc. Among the hidden fees are a $10 per day per cabin tip, soft drinks, bar drinks, wine, coffee (if purchased from the coffee bar), and meals if you eat in the Pinnacle dining room. We bought a drink card for ourselves and the kids ($65 each cabin) which covered the fountain soft drinks only. The wine prices on board are roughly 4-6 times the typical grocery store price. Expect to pay $30 for a $7 below average pinot and $150+ for a $25 cabernet with a Spectator rating above 90. Bar drinks run $5 - $7 each. Laundry service runs around $60 for the week. Internet service is $0.40 per minute and the phone costs $16 per minute so bring your cell phone to use in port!

The one bright spot was the Indonesian and Philippino staff on the ship. They were always very courteous and very attentive.

One other thing, since my wife had spent time in Alaska we knew what to pack. But the HAL packing checklist is just appalling (since they sell fleeces on board by the box load, I wonder if this was deliberate…). Be sure you bring a wool fleece (not a cotton sweatshirt), a rain coat with a hood, long-sleeve shirts for underneath, and a pair of rain pants and hiking boots if you are going on an excursion. It is cold and wet there in the Alaskan rain forest and we saw lots of shivering passengers – helpfully buying HAL fleeces – because they packed the wrong stuff.

By way of disclosure, we are more accustomed to vacations at the Four Seasons, Ritz Carlton, or JW Marriott. In comparison to one of these high-end hotels, a HAL cruise is expensive, the accommodations are lousy, and the much of the service vastly inferior.
 

 

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