Holland America Cabins Ready at 11:30

| Tuesday, 28 Aug. 2012
   

A verandah stateroom on Holland America In light of the recent Carnival announcement for a premium boarding service to cruisers willing to pony up $49.95, I recalled an initiative put into action by Holland America last year to make all of its staterooms ready for occupancy by 11:30 a.m. to everyone onboard - at no additional cost.

Certainly enough, I had a chance to see if the guarantee was true during my recent Alaska cruise on the Oosterdam a few weeks ago, and I can testify that my stateroom was indeed ready and was occupied by me at 11:30 a.m. - just about the time we boarded the ship.

This is actually a very significant accomplishment for which Holland America deserves a big "congratulations." It required a great deal of planning - as I learned when I interviewed Hart Sugarman, Deputy Director of Housekeeping Operations for Holland America, about the new program last year.

To be clear, however - there are some differences between the two plans. First, the Carnival program is called "Faster to the Fun" and it is a guarantee to have the staterooms ready with your luggage waiting at the impressively early 10:30 a.m. This requires a special line for early boarding on the pier and another line for fast access to the ship long before the huddled masses. It also gives you premium boarding or tender tickets in all ports of call and other perks during the cruise.

The Carnival offer must be booked pre-cruise through the shore tours section of the Carnival Web site by least one occupant of the stateroom which guarantees the same for everyone in that stateroom and is currently only available on two ships; Carnival Liberty and Carnival Imagination.

Are you aware of this Holland America feature? Tell us here: Holland America Forum

Holland America only says it will do its best to have all staterooms ready by 11:30, and does not include having your luggage in the room when you arrive, but the promise is for everyone sailing fleetwide and at no additional cost. Additionally, having all of the staterooms ready earlier clears the way for expedited luggage delivery - now two hours earlier than before, on average.

How significant is this? It makes a huge difference for many. I live on the West Coast and when I cruise out of Miami and Ft. Lauderdale I have two options; I can book a hotel the night before or I can catch a redeye flight and arrive in Miami at approximately 7:00 a.m. - brutally exhausted and ready to fall into the nearest bed. Either way, I am going to end up at the pier before noon.

Many cruise lines - surprisingly mostly the smaller luxury cruise lines and river boats, commonly do not have their staterooms ready until as late as 2:00 and even 3:00 p.m. This can be especially draining when you travel overseas to Europe where most flights arrive in the early morning after as long as 20 hours of flying and changing planes two or three times.

How Does Holland America Do It?

Hart Sugarman explained to me that the program required a multi-level approach, as you can read in this interview with Hart Sugarman in CruiseMates. He told me, "The first thing we had to find was a way for the room stewards to get rooms ready faster. So we streamlined the process by bringing in people from the laundry services to strip the beds and gather up the towels. We put the sheets, bathrobes and pillow cases into color coded bags and drop them by the elevators for other people to pick up. This frees up a lot of time the room stewards used to spend in each room."

"People from other departments come through all the rooms and empty the trash receptacles. They put everything into big trash bags, which are also left by the elevators. Workers from the sanitation department come by to pick them up."

"Once the rooms are cleared the room stewards come in. We now have special packets ready, pre-filled with everything a stateroom needs, 'all in one' big sealed plastic bags which are prepared a few days in advance. The room steward opens the pack and takes out the sheets, pillow cases, towels, amenities, Kleenex boxes, soaps, shampoos, toilet paper, etc. In fact we have two different kits, K-kits and T-kits (for king-size or twin bed configurations) and we distribute them according to the ship's manifest for how the room will be laid out," Hart continued.

Good for Everyone

In fact - these are exactly the kinds of services I think the cruise lines should focus upon the most. A fast boarding process is far more important to me than any new décor or restaurant. It means a far better cruise experience overall, and it especially means that at least one of worst days of any cruise; embarkation, is now far more tolerable and customer-friendly.

It seems pretty likely that the groundwork done by Sugarman aided Carnival developing an enhanced boarding service. But since Holland America can do it this quality of service it should soon become the norm expected by cruise passengers everywhere.

I only hope that Holland America chooses to keep this standard in place even if they plan to also offer the Carnival option. In fact, when I asked Holland America about the Sugarman process as when I recently heard about the new Carnival program, the line chose not to comment. But I did find the practice in place when I arrived, and I suspect they just didn't want to brag about it because they are a sister company to Carnival Cruise Line.

So, here is a hint to Holland America. Keep the Sugarman service as you have it now and still offer the premium 10:30 service like Carnival is about to offer fleetwide. There will always be plenty of people willing to pay extra for premium boarding in any case. It is that important.

Are you aware of this Holland America feature? Tell us here: Holland America Forum

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