Karl & Heidi Thoennes
Number of Cruises: 2
Cruise Line: Holland America
Sailing Date: n/a
This was our second cruise on Holland America. The first was on the Veendam in August 2003 as our honeymoon cruise. Like another reviewer on here, I was afraid those special circumstances made the memories better than they really were. Nope. If anything, the Statendam was even better run than the Veendam, and we had a wonderful trip.
We stayed at the Terminal City Club Tower in Vancouver the night before the cruise. Beautiful hotel, spectacular view, decent price, and the bellboys took all our giant suitcases from the hotel room to the ship terminal for us. Couldn’t have been easier. With a very good arm you could almost thrown a baseball to the cruise terminal.
The embarkation was a terrible ordeal, like running a gauntlet before you reached the palace. First the security screening line, metal detectors, X-ray machines, taking off my shoes and belt, all the time juggling all the carry-ons and paperwork and passport stuff. Then there’s the customs line, passport, paperwork, forms. Then there’s the actual Holland America check-in line, forms, ID photo, more forms and paperwork. The whole thing took probably an hour, but it seemed much worse. A good part of the hassle wasn’t Holland America’s fault really – a Celebrity Cruise was leaving at about the same time, so about 3000 people were trying to move through that terminal at the same time. Once we got on the ship, the entire hassle instantly melted away.
As we’ve come to expect with Holland America, the service, food, and décor are all outstanding. Yes, the average age of HAL passengers might be 105, but it’s such an elegant cruise, like we imagine cruises used to be decades ago. Roving violins in the hallways, our room steward Paimun prepared our rooms each night with towels folded into a different animal, like towel origami. A uniformed steward calls you to dinner with a dinner chime. Formal night is really formal, bring your tux. According to the cruise director there were 100 “junior mariners” (kids) on board, but we barely noticed the kids, they were all very well behaved. Suparman and Wawan, our dining stewards were just great. Funny, amusing, elegant, impeccable service. Orlando the wine steward really did know what he was talking about. He even let me substitute a bottle that was not one of the wines in the package we bought when the bottle I initially wanted was sold out. Finally, Nana, the head steward for our section, could not have been more elegant. He’s been working for Holland America for 20 years, and set the perfect tone in the dining room.
In the last couple years Holland America changed to an automatic tip policy where each passenger’s account is charged $10 per day, and drinks are charged an automatic 15% gratuity. You can reduce the tip if you want, but the staff more than earns it. Like some of the other reviewers, we preferred the previous system of direct tipping, but I assume too many passengers were cheapskates. We came right out and asked the Nana, the head steward, what the crew thought of the new system, and he very diplomatically said they liked it, that it was generally better than the old system. Still, we gave all of them an extra $10 directly on top of the automatic gratuity charged each day. Others increased the tip through the front office on board. We probably should have given more. We also tipped one of the Crows Nest drink attendants (Sigrid) and the steward who called us to dinner and handed out mints as we left the dining room each night. Nice touch.
As for shore excursions, they’re badly overpriced on board. We found the shore excursion staff really unhelpful. They knew almost nothing about the details of the excursions, and even said that they’ve never been on any of them and only knew what the brochures said. A couple weeks before the cruise, hop on the Internet and book your own. You’ll save hundreds of dollars. (For example, a flightseeing trip in Juneau was almost $200 per person through Holland America, but $148 direct.)
Oh, one last compliment – the nightly dance production shows were unbelievable. The Veendam shows made such a little impression that we don’t even remember them. The Statendam shows were so good that we made an effort to see each one. They had a troupe of about 8 college age singers and dancers. I have no idea where they got all the energy. They did a fantastic job, great shows.
We’ll be sailing Holland America again next year. Fantastic cruise.