Introduction I have traveled fairly extensively, having cruised
on many occasions. This cruise would be my 7th cruise. I have
cruised mostly on Princess Cruises; have experienced premium cruise
lines like Cunard's Queen Mary (Queen's Grill Class) and
Silversea's Silver Cloud.
However, this is my first cruise on Holland America and since ms
Amsterdam is Holland America's flagship, I should be expecting the
best that Holland America has to offer.
This cruise was selected because it was the only cruise ship
offering South American cruises during this period. In fact, it is
the last ship to ply these waters for the season. The 33-day cruise
embarks from Rio, Brazil and ends in San Diego USA. This cruise
have a fair number of days at sea, a hence with plenty of free time
on my hands, I decided to write this account. The following is
focused mainly be on the ship itself and less about the
destinations visited; otherwise this would be rather lengthy.
The following account is based on my experience and observations
on the cruise. The opinions are personal.
Hopefully, this account would reach the good people in Holland
America as constructive criticism
and other potential passengers considering cruises with Holland
I will not go into the statistical details about the ship; this
information is readily available on many websites. Generally, the
ship is mid-sized, small enough for embarkation to be a breeze.
Queues are generally never too long for services. Large enough to
have a decent sized theatre and productions.
Opinions about the interior design of the ship are subjective.
There is a fine line between elegance and tackiness. Amsterdam's
interior design is treading dangerously towards tackiness.
Let me illustrate my point with the Queen's Lounge. The color
scheme is as follows: purple, red, gold and silver. There are
semi-naked statues finished in silver-leaf, holding up backlit
platters lining the walls. Class or crass? You decide.
The heart of the ship is a three-storied atrium where the front
offices, lounges and shops surround. The atrium itself is not
large. In the middle of the lobby is an 'Astrolabe'. It's a rather
impressive contraption, with the ability to tell time,
constellations, moon phases, etc. This "Astrolabe" completely
dominates the already small atrium, rendering it generally useless,
negating any opportunities for functions to be held in the
I do however appreciate the fresh flowers arrangements
throughout the public areas of the ship. The variety of potted
orchids on the Lido buffet adds a pleasant touch to the dining
I stayed in a Balcony suite. It is divided into three sections.
First, the entry with closets on one side and the bath in the
other. This is typical of most hotel rooms. There is a bathtub with
a Jacuzzi. Second, the sleeping area, there are two beds that can
be combined to become a double. There are curtains that separate
this area from the other. Third, the sitting area, the sofa
converts into a single bed for the third passenger in some rooms.
There is a large desk with the television on one side. The Balcony
has a lounger and a chair.
The cabin is comfortable with plenty of storage. There is
nothing much to complain about here.
There are several dining options available on the ship.
The main dining room is called the La Fontaine, the only
'Fontaine' noted were the two automatic hand sanitizers on two
sides of the entrance. It's a double-decked dining room with a
central atrium complete with fake palms.
There are two sittings for dinner. A typical dinner consists of
4 choices of appetisers, 3 choices for soups, 2 choices for salads,
7 choices for main course, many choices for deserts.
There is always a fruit based item for the appetizers. There is
always a cold soup, fruit based as well. The main courses are
divided into two parts, items from the entree or grill. There is
always ice cream and a flambé item in the desert
Food quality is generally good, through not up to be standards
of premium cruise lines like Silversea but hey, it cost a lot less.
The quality and variety of deserts is somewhat lacking. (Princess
offers better deserts, for those sweet-toothed cruisers out
The western dishes prepared are good enough. The problem arises
when the chefs attempt to interpret cuisines that they are not
familiar with. I take particular offence to the appetizer named
"Grilled Chicken Sate Singapore Style". We're from Singapore and
imagine the delight when we saw the item on the menu. All of us
ordered it only to be gravely disappointed. It neither looks nor
tastes like the satay (we spell 'sate' as 'satay') we know. Even
the accompanying condiments are wrong. We would have no issue if
the dish were called 'Grilled Chicken Sate Amsterdam Style'. Please
do not associate Singapore with the culinary imposter. When and if
the Amsterdam gets to Singapore, please try the real Singapore
Satay and see how wrong it is.
My family has registered our comments (and displeasure) over the
item in the comment cards midway through the cruise, only to find
the item repeated again on the menu. Either the chefs had ignored
our comments or thought that those pesky (and occasional)
Singaporean have disembarked and that it is safe to bring out the
dish again. Chances are, the dish would be repeated again. So, a
word of caution to all diners on the Amsterdam, do not believe that
you are getting 'Grilled Chicken Sate Singapore Style' when you
order the dish.
This is not the only Asian dish bastardized by the chefs, the
"Thai Prawn Curry" is another story, but I'll let the Thais take
the issue up with the chefs.
The Lido Buffet is located on the top for the ship. It offers
breakfast from 7.30am to 10.00am, lunch from 11.30am to 2:00pm and
dinner from 5.45pm to 7.30pm. My biggest issue with the buffet is
that it does not offer continuous service. For example, there is no
food from 10.00am to 11.30am. (Gasp! No food on a cruise ship! Its
sacrilegious!) There are days where I had to make myself wake up in
time for breakfast (OK, I'm a pig) especially during those long sea
days. Holland America could easily have extended breakfast service
on one of the two buffet lines while preparing the other for lunch,
so the two could overlap. It's simple enough and have been
frequently done on other cruise ships and I don't see why Holland
America can't do it. It gives passengers peace of mind that food is
The Lido also has an ice-cream bar as part of the buffet. While
the quality of the ice cream is not quite Haagen Daz, it is very
well appreciated and exploited, much to the detriment of the
There is premium restaurant is called the Pinnacle Grill at the
Odyssey. There is a cover charge of $20 per person. Holland America
says that the cover charge goes towards the premium ingredients.
Personally, I have not eaten there. The feedback I received from
fellow passengers that have dined there was that the food is indeed
better than that served in the main dining room, but it was not
worth the $20 charged. On the occasions where I have walked pass
the restaurant; it is semi-deserted most of the time. It seems that
the popularity of the restaurant could be improved either by
improving the quality of the food or by reducing the cover
There is always a two identical shows on every night of the
cruise, one for the early seating diners and the other for the main
Throughout the cruise, there are four production shows with a
cast of 4 lead singers and 6 dancers. Because for the length of the
cruise (33 days), the production shows were repeated for the
benefit of guests that has joined us midway.
On the other nights, there are other guest performers. There are
a wide variety of genres offered. We had performances by pianist,
flutists, comedians, singers, dancers, magicians etc. Most of the
performances were well executed and a joy to watch.
All the performances are backed up by the wonderfully and
professionally by the Amsterdam Orchestra.
One suggestion to Holland America: The ship was docked overnight
in Buenos Aires, Argentina. One of the optional tours offered was
to watch Tango in one of the bars in the city. We were disappointed
when we were directed into the venue. It was a small and dingy hall
with a tiny stage. The stage lighting was rudimentary. The dancers
and the musicians were good though, but the stage could hardly
accommodate all of them.
Holland America could easily have invited the performers to
perform on board at the Queen's Lounge. The stage, sound and
lighting system are far superior to what the bar had to offer. It
would also save us the hassle of transfers from the ship to the
bar. More passengers instead of only those who signed up for the
tour would be able to enjoy the performance.
That would also mean that Holland America could not charge us
$79 a person for the show without dinner. Those who opted for
dinner were charged even more. It boils down to whether the ship
could absorb the cost of the bringing the Tango performance
onboard, to be open to all guests. Having said that, I would rather
pay a nominal amount to watch the show in a 'state of the art'
stage onboard the ship where the full potential of the entertainers
could be better expressed.
My family and I have signed up for a 4-day, 3-night overland
tour to visit Machu Pichu. The tour was booked through the Internet
based on the itinerary from Holland America. The tour was to begin
at 1030am in the morning of the first day, arriving in Lima in the
afternoon for an overnight stay. That would give us sufficient rest
before the next morning's flight into Cuzco.
One day before the departure, we received the itinerary in a
briefing. It came as a shock to most of us. The tour only departs
at 4pm in the afternoon. We will only arrive into Lima at 10pm,
arrive at the hotel at 11.30pm. Breakfast the next morning would be
at 3am! That leaves us with 2 and half hours sleep at most for the
night. Understandably, a lot of us were unhappy with the
arrangement. The tour office offered us the option of canceling the
trip with a full refund. But for many of us, that wasn't much of a
choice, because we would not be returning to this region for a long
time. (South America is a 30-hour flight away for us). The reason
given for the change was the flight schedule.
Underlying the dissent was that this tour was exorbitant to
begin with. We were each charged $1699 for double occupancy for the
'standard' package. The luxury package costs $2199.
What Holland America should have done was to verify the flight
schedules before publishing them on their brochures and not promise
what they cannot deliver. They could also have informed us, days,
if not weeks in advance of the change in the itinerary, giving us
time to make alternative arrangements. Note of advise to other
passengers, don't bet on all the information on the brochures.
On a positive note, the tour guide assigned to us, Kika was
efficient, friendly and informative. (We had one more hour of sleep
in Lima, arranged through skipping breakfast in the hotel, it was
Holland America claims the ship to be 'State of the Art'. But
there are little things that make me wonder.
We all remember the key cards that we are issued at embarkation.
This is the first ship that I have been on that does not record an
image of the passenger in the ship's database. As result, we are
all required to display a 'government issued photo ID' whenever we
board the ship. The security at the gangway would then match our
faces with the photo ID and the names on key cards. On all the
other ships that I have been on, whenever the key cards are swiped,
the passenger's face would appear on the monitor behind the
security desk, immediately verifying the identity of the keycard
holder. No photo ID required. Yes, it's a minor inconvenience, but
the technology isn't rocket science either. However, its
implications on the ship's security would be of greater
The security personnel would also accept a photocopy of our
passport as verification (since the ship is holding our passports).
If a passenger were to lose his keycard with a photocopy of his
passport, any criminal with access to photocopying machine could
easily superimpose his photo onto the original. All the security
features inherent in the original passport are voided in the
photocopy. The criminal would hence have free access onboard the
The ship's photographers still use film. Considering the number
of photos, some wanted, mostly unwanted, taken on and off board,
the amount film wasted must be phenomenal. While cost of the
digital camera equipment is high, its running cost is minimal.
Given the volume of photos taken on board, I'm sure the cost would
be covered in no time. Think of all the rolls of film and chemicals
needed to develop them. Digital is the environmentally friendly way
The above may be viewed as minor, but viewed on the whole, it's
indicative of a company's willingness to embrace technology for the
convenience and security of its customers. Let's not forget that
the Amsterdam is the flagship, I wonder what's on the other sister
Would I travel on another Holland America Cruise in the
The overall experience is pleasant enough and I did enjoy the
trip. However, I find Princess Cruises to be marginally superior to
what Holland America. I would have opted for Princess Cruises if
given a choice. (The two cruise lines are in the same price
However, my criteria for selecting cruises is based more on the
destinations rather than the cruise line, so if Holland America can
come up with interesting itineraries, I might yet return.
Hopefully, the above account is construed as constructive
criticism by the management in Holland America, including
suggestions to improve their product.
I hope that the above would be helpful other potential
passengers considering cruises with Holland America.