Holland America's launched its first ship, the 1,684-ton Rotterdam, in 1873. Ever since, for over 130 years now, the company has had one of the most recognizable names for quality in running ocean liners in the world.
When Holland America assembled its first purpose built "cruise ship" in 1973, the company knew that the one thing it had going for itself was reputation. Thus, the Holland America motto, "Tradition of Excellence" has been smartly embraced to this day, enabling them to associate their name with professionalism and tradition in the passenger shipping business.
Like so many other successful cruise lines these days, Holland America is now owned by Carnival Corporation, having been acquired in 1989. It is important to note that of the two large megalithic cruise corporations with several brand names under their respective umbrella, Carnival Corp. is the one with the reputation for having more of a "hands-off" policy when it comes to the day-to-day operations of the various cruise lines within their aegis.
Carnival has been largely respectful of Holland America Lines' tradition. Meanwhile, with the help of Carnival financing, the fleet has grown dramatically in the past decade-plus to 14 ships now, including Rotterdam VI (the company uses the same names over and over as it retires and builds new ships). The next Nieuw Amsterdam will debut on July 4, 2010, almost exactly two years to the day since the last ship, Eurodam, entered service.
Eurodam represented the finest Holland America ship to date with the beautiful decor and the best combination of features combined from all the other ships.
All of the ships built for the current Holland America Fleet are fairly new, at least in style, the actual oldest being the Statendam built in 1993. This was the first of the S-class ships, all built under the tutelage of Carnival Corp. With wonderful art collections, abundant polished marble, and sumptuous fabrics, the nearly identical 1,258-passenger S-class ships (Statendam, Maasdam, Ryndam and Veendam) have continued the company's tradition of evoking the grand old liners of yesterday.
Public rooms on all the Holland America ships, the Ocean Bar and Explorers Lounge are also present and accounted for. Covered promenade decks encircle the entire ships, which also offer a large Lido pool with a retractable dome and a "Crow's Nest" observation lounge. Spacious accommodations are 85 percent ocean view, with 80 percent of those having verandahs. Numerous dining options are offered, from elegant full-service to casual Lido Restaurant service.
When it came time to create something a little more upscale, the line choose to re-birth the flagship name, Rotterdam (1997), but for the most part the only difference between it and the previous S-class ships was additional lounges, and a third bank of elevators, and Holland America's first Alternative Restaurant.
Beginning with the Zuiderdam in 2002, the line quickly embarked on building a whole new fleet of vessels called the V-ships (followed by the Westerdam, Oosterdam, and Noordam). Improvements to these vessels (which still strongly resemble merely beefed up versions of the S-class ships) includes a three-deck main show lounge, Internet/e-mail data ports in all staterooms and external glass elevators on both sides of the ship. They all have alternative restaurants serving Pacific Northwest cuisine. Three of them have a Pinnacle Grill Bar and an expanded Explorations Cafe built into the Crows Nest. They also have 34 additional cabins. The Oosterdam is set to get those upgrades in May 2009.
The Rotterdam IV (1997) and the Amsterdam (2000) share the "flag-ship" moniker for Holland America. They are both roughly 60,000-tons and carry about 1300 passengers. The Volendam (1999) and Zaandam (2000) are sister ships at 63,000-tons and 1440 passengers.
As a purely aesthetic departure from the rest of the fleet, in April 2002, Holland America acquired the 38,000-ton, 758 passenger Seabourn Sun, originally built in 1988 as the Royal Viking Sun, from sister company Seabourn Cruise Line. Renamed Prinsendam, she sails exotic, international itineraries of 10 days and longer. Some ships in the world of cruising are classic models, too well-loved to be forgotten, and this ship (forever known to old-timers as the Royal Viking Sun, though she has changed names often) is one of them.
The Eurodam, introduced in July 2008, followed by sister ship Nieuw Amsterdam in July 2010, are the biggest and most impressive Holland America ships yet; at 86,000-tons and 2014 passengers they are 30% larger than the rest of the fleet. The fact that this is the largest ship in size and passenger capacity says everything you need to know about Holland America. Smaller ships, spacious comfortable cabins, and fewer passengers means you get great service in a quiet, professional atmosphere.
Holland America ships won't have all of the bells and whistles, especially for younger cruisers, as the larger (110,000-tons) and greater capacity (3000 passengers) Carnival or Royal Caribbean ships, but considering you can cruise on Holland America for about the same price, for adult cruisers of all ages Holland America is one of the consistently best values in the cruise industry.
Holland America Line (please do not refer to it as "HAL") still maintains much of its original service traditions. Just look at the bellman's uniforms with their little round, brimless caps. Passengers are still summoned to dinner by the genteel ringing of a chime and then dine to the accompaniment of a string quartet or pianist. Indeed, Holland America's reverence for its own seafaring history and tradition is exceeded only by Cunard's.
The surprising thing about the line, however, is how price competitive they are with even mid-priced cruise lines such as Princess and Royal Caribbean. Great prices can be found on these ships, and if you are looking for quiet elegance on a longer itinerary, it is hard to beat Holland America for a combination of elegant, kid-free cruising at very affordable rates.
In the past, many passengers found Holland's cuisine to be somewhat bland, but a new generation of chefs is changing that. The lines' buffets have traditionally been some of the most tempting at sea. The open daily ice-cream counter (noon to 4:00 p.m.) is the best at sea, with handmade varieties accompanied by toppings like caramel and toasted almonds, and even fresh oven-baked cookies. All of the creamy goodness at no extra charge! Indeed, if there is one complaint creeping in to cruise lines selling at similar prices to Holland America, its the "nickel & diming" other lines do to chase the onboard revenue. Holland America has the good taste to keep public announcements and under the door flyers to a minimum.
Holland America's warmly gracious Indonesian and Filipino crew is probably the single biggest reason that the cruise line gets so much repeat business. The line actually operates schools in each of these respective countries to train their future crewpeople. The line did suffer somewhat during the rapid expansion days of 1998-2002, and keeping up with staffing so many ships was a bit of a challenge. But as the growth slowed down the company had a chance to re-focus on its onboard service through a $250-million campaign called "Signature of Excellence" that focused on the little details needed upgrade and maintain the quality of the fleet. The company's famous "no tipping required" policy has given way to a pre-paid $10 per person per day service charge, adjustable at the Front Desk at the passenger's discretion.
The "Signature of Excellence" initiative, started in 2004, includes table side waiter service at dinner in the Lido buffet at night, a new Culinary Arts Program with viewing kitchens for demonstrations and classes by celebrity chefs, expansion of spa and fitness facilities, upgraded Club HAL Kids Centers, and new shore excursions. The Explorations Cafe is a combination New York Times-powered library, Internet center, music listening area and sidewalk cafe. Staterooms now offer the best mattresses and duvets sold in Europe, and suites offer flat screen TVs and DVD players on most ships. There's early boarding and a choice of four dinner seatings, including "anytime dining."
In the end, it was announced that "Signature of Excellence" actually cost the company closer to $450 million. The last refinements were still in progress as of 2007. Of the newest Vista-class ships, the Westerdam and the Noordam were delivered with the newest features, including the Pinnacle Grill Bar and the improved Explorations Cafe, both located high up in the Crow's Nest. That work was completed in May of 2008 for Zuiderdam, and May of 2009 for Oosterdam. Other improvements include flat panel televisions and top of the line linens in every stateroom.
In September 2008 the line also announced upgrades to the Statendam, Maasdam, Ryndam, Veendam and Rotterdam with new public rooms to add some life to these smaller, somewhat quiet ships. The somewhat stilted atriums will be upgraded with new public rooms called "The Mix" featuring three specialty theme bars; Martinis, Champagne, and Spirits & Ales.
Onboard enrichment includes the excellent culinary classes held in working demontration kitchens that look and functions very similarly to something one would see on the "Food Network." Overhead cameras zoom in on the slicing and dicing action, and food put in one oven comes out of another one magically fully cooked just five minutes later - just like on TV!
Insofar as cruising to Alaska is concerned, no mainstream cruise line does it better. The company purchased a controlling interest in Alaska tour company Westours in the early 1970's and hence moved their headquarters to Seattle, Washington in 1983. But Alaska is not all they offer. Holland America offers one of the industry's widest choice of itineraries, sailing to over 280 ports of call on all seven continents from 25 home ports, including Benghazi, Libya; Pearl Island, Panama; South Georgia Island in the sub-Antarctic islands; and Narvik, Norway.
Much of the appeal of the line is in it's spacious cabins, welcoming and practical in every category. Every ship boasts a remarkable art collection.
Holland America's longer cruises seem to appeal primarily to those over 60, but the average age on one-week cruises is plummeting, thanks to concentrated marketing to a younger clientele who understands the value the line offers in service & comfort. Such new features as Internet cafes with wireless access, special computer classes sponsored by Microsoft employees and boutique alternative restaurants help, as well as the expansion of the Club HAL program with kids and teens centers.
All that said, those who like to bar-hop or shake their booties well after midnight should stick to the 7-night Caribbean cruises, or are likely to find themselves doing so mostly with the entertainment staff. Bedtime on longer cruises still tends to be before midnight amd youngsters are few and far between.
Holland America offers expertly managed shore excursions wherever it cruises, and though the line cruises all over the world, they're neither much more nor much less expensive than other cruise lines' excursions.Kid's Excursions
Club HAL now includes kids and teens three to 17, whereas previously you had to be at least five for them to take any notice. Dedicated youth coordinators run full days of events for each age group on Maasdam, Ryndam and the Vista-class ships, (Zuiderdam, Oosterdam Westerdam). New teen areas The Loft lounge and The Oasis have sundecks with their own waterfalls, hammocks and covered snack areas.
On Caribbean cruises, the private island Half Moon Cay is a treat for younger cruisers and sun worshippers. Activities offered; horseback riding including a horseback swim in the ocean, bicycle tours, parasailing, rental of snorkel and scuba-diving gear, deep sea fishing, and an excellent alternative to Grand Cayman for swimming with stingrays. Instead of a 90 minute jaunt by bus and boat to the middle of bay packed with tourists, you can walk down a set of steps and right into the welcoming fins of the sleek creatures. The same experience without the delays and boredom.
Group babysitting is available in the Club HAL facilities from 10 p.m. to midnight at a charge of $5 per child per hour. Limited private babysitting is available through the Front Office for ages 3 to 12.
The dining rooms offer special children's menus.
Mariner Club members receive a quarterly newsletter; special promotional offers, amenities on select sailings; separate check-in; luggage tags; onboard cocktail reception with the Captain; and other onboard goodies based on number of cruises.Tipping
For years Holland America was known for its no-tipping policy, intended to make passengers believe that staff were doing it for love, rather than money. (Yeah, right.) Nowadays, though, gratuities of $10.00 per person (including children) are automatically added daily to the shipboard account for dining and stateroom service. Visit the front desk to adjust that amount. That a 15 percent service is automatically added to bar bills should surprise no one.
My family party of 11 spent thanksgiving on the Nieuw Amsterdam on a 7 night cruise. The food was substandard in all dining areas. There were insufficient staffing in the main dining rooms and the food was extremely slow in arriving at the table. I have cruised on three other lines and must say HAL is the poorest quality of all.
Below are copies of the note I sent to Holland Americal line and
their response on the 10-DAY SOUTHERN CARIBBEAN SEAFARER January
18th January 28th on Noordam:
> From: xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
> Sent: Wednesday, January 30, 2013 10:16 AM
> To: Guest Relations (HAL)
> Cc: xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
> Subject: 10-DAY SOUTHERN CARIBBEAN SEAFARER January 18th January 28th on Noordam
We were very disappointed with our most recent voyage on the Noordam. There were some very good points about the ship as well, but the overall impression I/we had with the Noordam and Holland America was negative.
I would like to start with the GOOD Ray and Vincent at the front desk/Purser's desk were excellent, providing as much assistance as possible with a smile. The Ship it self was clean and in good repair and well handled, both in our cabin and the public areas. The Spa/Gym staff were excellent, especially Saundra the leader of the morning Stretch and exercise class!! (and having these two sessions each morning from 7:00-7:30 and 7:30-8:00 as free classes was GREAT) The dinning room food was excellent as
However, our vacation was overshadowed by several events starting even before we boarded:
The first being our dinning room seating. When we booked initially, we were unable to get first seating (5:45) and were wait listed. Our travel agent suggested we try back on the day the final portion of the fare was due, which we did. We were able to obtain first seating (and it was reflected on the web site.) When we did the original submission of our documents to check in, 1st seating was displayed. About five days before sailing we went to print more luggage tags and noticed we had been re-assigned to open seating for dinner. We called Holland America Line and were told there was nothing they could do and we would have to call our travel agent, which we did. After spending close to an hour on the phone with our travel agent, we were able to again have 1st seating in the dinning room. (And again, we checked the next day to be sure it was on our reservation on the web site and it was.) When we came to board and were issued our ID cards, printed on the face of the card was open seating for dining. We immediately brought this to the attention of the agent that was checking us in. She, rather curtly said there was nothing she could do and we would have to handle it 'ship board' by talking with the dinning room manager. (In the past we have had to do this to get early seating and it always involves a "gratuity" of around $50.00 and since we worked at getting first seating before the cruise we had no intention giving anyone a gratuity for this again.) At my insistence, the manager on duty came over and I explained the problem. He also said there was nothing he could do and the only way to fix it was to do it on board.
I was surprised that a member of management was not empowered to resolve issues of this nature in a better way. He said my only alternative would be to call the 800 customer service number, which he provided. I did so ASAP right there and then (I think to the manager's surprise) I talked with a gentleman who claimed he was in the President's office. He also said that we should just go and talk with the dinning room manager. I again explained that fixing it with the dinning room manager would involve cash payments and about 1-2 hours of time. I pressed him with "if you are in the president's office, you mean you can't solve a simple customer's issue like dinning room seating?" he then put me on hold to "check something" and after a few minutes he came back and said that we should check with "Annie", the guest relation's manager on the ship and she would resolve our issue. I thanked him, boarded the ship, and went straight to the front desk/purser's office and asked for Annie. After a 10-15 minute wait, Annie came out and introduced herself. We explained our issue and she called the Dinning room, and after some discussion, we were granted 1st seating and had our ID cards re-issued, but not before Annie informed us that it was not the ship's fault that we did not have 1st seating. In all of this, we managed to miss the Mariner's Lunch in the dining room. We were the 7th, 8th and 9th people at a table for eight, so it was crowded, but our dinner companions were great and we all enjoyed each other's company each night at dinner (there were always empty tables in the dinning room and we heard from many others that they also wanted early seating and could not get it, but this has been an ongoing issue, since anytime dining was introduced and a different matter all together.) In all of this, the overall attitude that we encountered, both on the phone before the cruise, at check in and on board was:
It's not my fault
There is nothing I can do about it
It's not my issue
Where I was expecting the attitude of "How can I fix/resolve your problem." Which to me would be a signature of excellence.
The 1st night of the cruise, we received to notes about the deep sea fishing excursion we booked for a member of our group. One of the notes said the boat was out of commission and the other said here is your ticket for the excursion. Neither were date/time stamped so we did not know which to believe. We called and were not able to reach the excursion's desk (they were closed) We went down to the front desk to ask. They did not have a clue on which was correct, had no information other than the schedule for the next day with a mark next to the deep sea fishing and said there was no way to contact the excursion people to ask. (Where they were very nice and trying to be helpful, apparently they were not empowered to call/page/locate the excursion people to get an answer to our question) They suggested that we plan on the excursion, just in case it was "on", which we did and the it was (thank god we did plan) We also noticed that there were several people signed up for Deep Sea Fishing that did not show up at the boat, and we wondered if they had the same issues we did. Again we had the attitude of "there is nothing I can do/that I am allowed to do, to resolve the issue."
One night we ordered an in-room movie to be delivered. After the phone hold wait of 3-4 minutes they came on the line, took our order and said the movie would be there in 10-15 minutes, even though we offered to pick it up. After waiting over an hour for the movie, we called again (same 3-4 minute hold) they were surprised that we did not have the movie, then put us on hold trying to find out what happened, then we were told they thought the movie had been delivered asking us to be sure (we checked the outside bin, even though we were in the room the whole time, it was not there) then waited while they tried to figure out what happened. We never got the movie.
The times and locations of the ship board activities were poorly thought out nothing scheduled then several things scheduled at the same time. Locations and times of things like team trivia, and shipboard movies were greatly varied, even thought it was always well attended (when we could locate it) The quantity of the activities was very low. The late night Dessert event was held in the atrium, which was way too small. It was cramped, on three levels, and the A/C could not keep up we left quickly, without sampling much (We almost felt like the venue was chosen so people would leave quickly without partaking in the dessert buffet.
The movies around the pool on the Lido deck could not be heard/understood, ruining the movie. This is a BAD place to present movies and we declined to view any other movies on the pool deck. When we mentioned it to the Cruise Director, he said he knew and there was nothing that could be done. (Notice the theme of "not my fault, nothing I can do...")
The following items are just notes/comments about other things we think you should be aware of that normally we would not bother to write about, but since I am already writing, I am including them as well:
The Cruise Director, (Sean Michaels?) was the poorest dressed Cruise Director I can remember, who told very old, poor jokes to an audience that clearly, after the first couple of times he spoke, didn't what to hear them. I may be an old fogey, but on formal night, I would expect the Cruise Director to be turned out in a well fitting Tuxedo, complete with bow tie, cummerbund/vest studs and cuff links. This was not the case and it was noticed by many of the guests.
In the past, participation in trivia, game shows... yielded some nice mementos of the trip. This time, either they were not given or they were so poor as to be not wanted who really wants another pin... We can remember the days of the Dam Dollars and ending up with a "dam ships" sweat shirt, hat or t-shirt and we miss them.
Room service was prompt in the morning, delivering our wake up coffee. However, it took them forever to retrieve the tray (sometimes as late as 4:00 pm, even though we called early to to have them picked up) We honored the request not to put them in the hallways, but we were tempted to several times because of the delay in getting them.
Calling anyone on the ship's telephone resulted in always being put on hold for 1-5 minutes, regardless of who we were trying to reach.
The tenders on half moon cay were some of the worst boat handlers I have ever encountered. They struck both the dock and the ship very hard, jarring the passengers and alarming some of them. The weather was not particularly rough or windy, just poor drivers (When the Ship's tenders were used at Samana, they were smooth and gentle, in worse conditions...) Where this did not affect our enjoyment much, I thought I would note this for you, since they are outside contractors and you need to know the quality (or lack there of) of the contractors.
This was my 3rd cruise on a Holland America ship in the past five years and each one has been a step down in customer service from the one before. This is an alarming trend and feel that as a loyal customer, I need to make you aware of them. If this trend continues, Holland America will no longer be my cruise line of choice.
On 2/11/2013 11:50 AM, Guest Relations (HAL) wrote:
Thank you for your email to Holland America Line's Guest Relations Department.
We are committed to providing our guests with the highest level of service, and appreciate the effort it takes to write to us. Please be assured that we respond to all correspondence in the date order it is received. At times it can take several weeks to properly investigate and research some issues to provide a proper response. We appreciate this opportunity to review your correspondence and thank you for your patience.
You will be hearing from us soon.
If you find it necessary to contact us in the meantime, please refer to your booking number.
Office of the President
Holland America Line
TAKE CARE before reserving on Zuiderdam or any other Holland America Cruise ships. We traveled as a group of 6 (my family of four with teenage children and my parents). The Zuiderdam has poorly trained staff, extremely uneven quality of dining, and poor services (shore excursions and spa for instance).
Our problems started at arrival. Our family of four received a room which had not been cleaned. Dirty towels and partially eaten food were in the cupboards, food bits and a variety of sundries (including sweatbands) were on the floor, the bed whilst made had sheets that clearly had been used. We complained to the steward who cleaned the closets but did not vacuum and also did not change the sheets. We complained to the front office at dinner after which the sheets were changed. The room was not vacuumed until the second day.
Dinner service was uneven. In the 'set time' dining the tables are jammed full (3rd floor). The 'reserve as you go' dining room is far more spacious (but fewer tables). The 'buffet' on the Lido Deck is almost inedible and the strong smell of cooking food lingers throughout theLido area including the pool. As far as dinner service, the portions were very small (for example: a 'caprese' salad contained one-half of a cherry tomato and one piece of mozzarella; a strawberry desert contained two 1/4 strawberry portions). The quality of food varied from night to night with some dishes exceeding expectations but an equal number far below expectation.
We tried to use the spa services and made reservations. When we arrived for the services we waited (twice), in both instances there was a failure to communicate between the front desk and service deliverer (pedicurist). After 20 minutes wait both times we were offered only the opportunity to reschedule. No explanation was given. We went to the front desk to complain and try to understand but were told that the only responsible 'persons' were the spa management.
We bought the 'enhanced' spa package consisting of access to a warm whirpool and thermal suites. This was billed as an exclusive service that would not be crowded. We were unable to use the 'thermal suites' at most times due to the number of guests who had been sold the service. The whirlpool area had an all glass enclosure allowing light but the blinds were drawn making the space shadowy and dark, not at all pleasant to use.
We booked a shore excursion to St. John's for snorkeling. The shore excursion was canceled due to 'beach inundation' at the last minute (approx. 11:00) before departure with no alternatives given (or available). We checked on surfforecaster.com and called friends who we were to meet on St. John's and both sources indicated that the snorkeling beach was not inundated (some swell but passable conditions). When we confronted the Front Office, the assistant refused to inform a manager of our complaint because "the manager on duty cannot help you and they don't want us to repeat our story". He offered instead that we could 'make an appointment' with someone else and write our complaint.
This last problem sums up our experience. The Zuiderdam has unresponsive staff who are not trained to address complaints or react. It provides uneven service levels that can impact vacation and the whole atmosphere seems that one should have limited expectations.
My parents who have been on over 50 cruises over the past twenty years felt that the Zuiderdam quality of food and service was the lowest they had ever seen. Their comment, "Holland America had a reputation of being a well-oiled machine and this is a complete surprise," sums up our family experience.
If you consider the Zuiderdam look elsewhere. There must be another boat and another line that will care more about your experience.