What Do We Mean by Service?

| Tuesday, 05 Mar. 2013

I learned first-hand about Holland America's high level of service when, during another lifetime, I worked for the company as a stage manager aboard two of its finest ships: the Westerdam and the Statendam. I witnessed first-hand the commitment Holland America makes to its standard of excellence. As someone on the "inside" I was continually surprised at the attention to detail offered.

My first stint aboard a Holland America ship was six weeks aboard the Westerdam in Alaska, a cruising area where Holland America was already renowned. Passenger loved the extra attempts Holland America made to ensure they had the voyage of a lifetime: there were naturalists on board, experts in Alaskan wildlife, to give lectures and point out sites to the guests along the way as we sailed past the islands of the Inside Passage into Glacier Bay. Guests could sit out on deck on the many authentic wooden deck chairs where staff members where constantly bringing around warm, wooly red blankets and helping passengers cover up. Everyone was treated to complimentary hot chocolate and in Glacier Bay there was Holland America’s famous Dutch Pea Soup out on deck.

It was as a staff member that I encountered the room steward who, to this day, is the best I've encountered at sea. This Indonesian gentleman, and a gentleman he truly was, introduced himself immediately upon my arrival and asked me just the right questions to discern my personality and situation so he could anticipate my needs without intruding upon my privacy. I consider this to be the true mark of professional service. But the incident where he really shined concerns a missing button on my tuxedo. He volunteered to take the tux to the ship’s tailor to replace the button before I needed it the next day. Unfortunately, the tailor had to close shop early that night. My steadfast and dedicated steward took my tuxedo back to his cabin, found a button himself and sewed it on for me during his free time. This is indeed personalized service beyond the call of duty -- so rare today.

Holland America, which has carried passengers since Rotterdam 1 entered service in 1825, has a history of catering to European royalty and the elite of society. No other cruise line evokes such a feeling of importance in its staff, and no other line works harder to preserve that feeling. Not only is the service delivered in a professional and non-obtrusive manner that is "felt" rather than seen or heard, it is also done under a policy of "tipping not required," an attribute of only the finest cruise lines on earth.

Holland America is unique its approach to hiring its crew to support the Dutch officers -- it hires consistently from only two areas: the Philippines and Indonesia. The Indonesian staff receives extensive training at Holland America’s exclusive school in Jakarta where they are taught how to conduct dining and hotel services in the manner Holland America has been refining throughout its history. The result is a consistently high level of attention to procedure and detail that guarantees you will be treated with the highest possible standards whenever you board a Holland America ship.

And, passengers keep returning to Holland America for special services no other cruise line offers. For example, guest lecturers are on board on cruises throughout Europe, the Panama Canal, South America and Alaska. On longer cruises there are Gentlemen Hosts to assure that ladies sailing alone will always have a dance partner and a friendly face at all the social functions. There are no extra charges for non-alcoholic espresso and coffee drinks, complimentary all the time, even in the Java Cafe coffee bar. What is a movie without popcorn? It's made fresh and hot before each full-length feature in the ships' cinemas.

In accordance with the Holland America’s "tipping not required" policy, the Italian cuisine alternative restaurants aboard the Rotterdam, Amsterdam, Volendam and Zaandam do not carry a service charge. Every night during the pre-dinner cocktail hour there are complimentary hot hors d’oeuvres served in all the lounges. The Lido Restaurant has an ice cream parlor where ice cream, yogurt, toppings and freshly baked chocolate-chip cookies are available during lunch, tea-time and at night.

Should you be lucky enough to have Penthouse or Suite accommodations aboard the Rotterdam and Amsterdam the Concierge Lounge is open for relaxing. Here, the concierge will arrange tours, transportation, dinner reservations, private parties and a host of other details.

Holland America is the cruise line where the unexpected extra touch is delivered consistently. In my mind, that is the definition of great service.


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