The following are transcripts of email correspondence I had with HAL (since you cannot get these people on the phone.)
Dear Ms Fritz,
I am sorry it has taken me so long to get back to you. Working in the travel industry yourself, I am sure you know how busy things can get. My partner and I are both in the industry. As I am sure you are busy, I will try to make this as brief as possible, while still trying to convey the total frustration we experienced.
We were on the April 13, 2003 sailing of the Rotterdam. And we must say, in spite of this incident, we were duly impressed with the ship and the staff. I want to express how much we did enjoy our trip. We both deal with HAL on a regular basis and recommend Holland America to customers on a daily basis.
Unfortunately, though, we did have an incident that soured our impression of the trip. And, I want to start out by saying that the most disappointing part was the reaction of your staff. A reaction that can only be described as defensive and indifferent.
As you may know, the Panama Railroad excursion had been cancelled for this trip, and we, as well as many onboard were very disappointed. We had really looked forward to this excursion. The description online sounded fantastic. We had gone to the shore excursion desk to ask about it, and were frankly surprised by the rather rude shore excursion manager, Ms Thorley. We were totally put off by her attitude. And had resolved ourselves to take a different tour. So, we were excited when we were told it was back. We rushed to put in our request, and were eventually issued vouchers for the trip. We did read the explanation of the new excursion, and it was extremely vague. But, the assumption from how it was worded was that the change was that we would be taking a bus ride back instead of the rail. A bit of a change, but certainly not a reason not to go.
We were told to be in the Queen's Lounge at 8:15am. So, we had to skip breakfast to be there on time. We did not actually tender off the ship until about 9:30. When we got off the ship, we were quickly ushered onto buses to be shuttled over to the Train. After a very long 45 minute ride through Colon, we got to the Train which we had been told by the Excursion Guide was only 15 minutes away. For some reason, they took us on a very long ride around the city. We were the last bus to arrive at the train, and shortly after we got onboard it took off. The ride to the Mira Flores locks was fairly nice, except that we were charged for drinks. And were given a box with a fruit cup, plantain chips and a granola bar in it. Luckily, we were not charged for this. Right away we wondered, was this the lunch that was to be included in the package? The train ride lasted approximately an hour. Then we unloaded from the train, were quickly hurried through the station and onto a bus. We took a 15 min ride to the Mira Flores locks Visitor Center, where there was practically nothing to do. Sure, they cannot guarantee that any ships would be coming through, but there was nothing else to do. The videos being shown inside the visitors center were the same ones that we showing onboard the ship. We stayed there for approximately 45 mins. Then we were rushed back onto the train for what seemed like a 2 hr bus ride back to the ship. When we arrived back, we were very rudely ordered to get back on the ship immediately. Not being allowed to shop the vendors at the dock, or get any of the free refreshments that were promised at the pier.
It was now 4 pm. We were tired, and hungry. At this point we had gone almost 8 hours with no real food to speak of. We went up to the lido deck to get food, and it was closed. Luckily our friends were in a suite and we went there and ordered lunch from room service.
So, we had not even come near the pacific ocean, as the tour implied. Even the signs as we boarded the bus said "Ocean to Ocean Railroad". We were not fed. And out of a nearly 8 hour trip there were only about 2 hours that were NOT spent on a bus. Not exactly the quality of tour we expected from Holland America.
That afternoon I went to the Shore Excursion desk to complain about the trip. When I arrived, several people were there to do the same. They all had the same complaint. That this trip was not what was promised. I asked to speak to the guest relations manager, and she told me I would have to speak to the Shore Excursions Manager. I advised her that she was very rude to us and several other people we had talked to and I did not want to do this, but I would follow her instructions, but I expected resolution. The Shore Excursion Manager, Ms Thorley, was extremely rude and nasty to everyone standing there. When I tried to explain to her our dissatisfaction, in a very nasty tone she replied "Well I am sorry that you did not enjoy it, but other people did." When several other people joined me in telling her of their dissatisfaction, she ordered us to leave. I then went and spoke to the guest relations manager, Frances Tolentino, again and asked her to speak to the Hotel Manager, Willem Van Poole. I asked her on at least four occasions to speak to him. Each time she would go back into the office, and come out with a new excuse as to why there was nothing that she could do. The third time she came to tell us that Ms Thorley had made the decision that there was nothing that she would do. Frances brought me the flier that was placed under our door which she said explained the
tour. And I explained that the flier implies that the ONLY change was that the bus would replace the train on the return end of the trip. Finally after being told that they would send a report to you, I gave up.
When I reported this to the other guests with me, and my partner. They were shocked. My partner and I then returned to the guest relations manager, we had to ask her four times to speak to the hotel manager. Finally my partner stated to her, "We have asked four times to speak to him, are you telling me that we cannot?" She then returned and said that he had agreed to speak to us at 6pm in his office. We relented and did so. At 6 pm, we arrived at his office. Ms Thorley and Ms Tolentino were present as well. As we explained our story, we were constantly cut off by Ms Thorley, and each step of our explanation was met with another excuse for what happened. For example, when we got to the end, and explained that the Lido had been closed. Mr. Van Poole stated that we could have gotten hamburgers at the Lido Grill or Room Service. Indicating that they either could not understand, or did not care about our and others frustration with the situation. We pointed out where in Holland America's own literature it points out that all "ALL DAY" Shore Excursion include lunch. Ms Thorley then stated that this was not an all day excursion. I guess 7hrs and 45 mins is not all day in her eyes.
Later, as we talked to other guests who had complained and came to check with us about what resolution we had gotten. We learned that a Mr. & Mrs. Richard & Mary Malone had approached Ms Thorley and advised her that Mary was diabetic and wanted to know if lunch was included, and Ms Thorley had assured them that it was. It was not. When confronted with this, Ms Thorley denied that statement. She also stated that only 3 cabins had complained about the trip. We have a list of 6 cabins that were complaining, and there were others who chose not to give us their email addresses.
The Shore Excursion was bad. We felt like it was a total waste of our day in Panama. We were angry and disgusted. But, the mistakes made were forgivable. But amazingly, no apology was ever offered. Short of Ms Thorley's "I am sorry you didn't enjoy it, but other people did". What galled us the most was the treatment we got from the staff. Ms Thorley should not be allowed to deal with the public, and the Hotel Managers total indifference and condescending tone during our meeting was a total shock to us. Was this the way our clients get treated? We have booked clients on 64 day cruises with HAL and this is the kind of complaints we get. And we thought, maybe they are just overreacting. Apparently not.
Let me say at this point, that we took a tour in Costa Rica that was phenomenal. The Sara Piqua Jungle River Cruise. It was amazing, and worth every dime. You would think this would have made things better, but it only made us more regret the experience we had in Panama. To think, THIS is what a shore excursion SHOULD be.
We had met a couple staying in a suite onboard who wanted to book another cruise. They too were on the railroad with us, and after this experience, asked us to book them on Princess or Costa. They were so put off by the treatment that we and they received they didn't want to risk spending money with Holland America and experiencing anything similar.
I hope that you understand where we are coming from. If you want clarification of this situation feel free to contact me I really think the reaction and response we have gotten up to this point is thoroughly unacceptable. I hope this letter will change that.