New Year's Cruise
We booked this cruise in March, our longest wait for a cruise yet! With the Florida hurricanes playing havoc on some of our scheduled ports, things were a little hectic for a while. As it turned out, the ports ended up in pretty fine shape. We were both kind of stressed out, though, when a big snowstorm hit us a couple of days before we were due to leave and the roof collapsed at our family business!
Christmas morning, after having our big family get-together on Christmas Eve, we took off. (The record 22" snowfall shut down our little city and prevented Rita from getting to her hair and nail appointments before we left.) After a visit and overnight stay with Rita's son and his girlfriend in Orlando, we continued our journey to Cape Canaveral to the Radisson Hotel for our park and drive stay. We left our auto at the hotel for the duration of the cruise.
The Radisson was a good choice and the shuttle got us to the ship fairly early, about 12:30. We would say the embarkation went very well. (The disembarkation was typical for other HAL cruises; there are always passengers not showing up for Immigration and delaying the whole procedure.)
The first thing Rita did after we boarded the ship was to book her hair and nails for that first sea day. They charged her one arm and both legs but, what the heck, she was happy! After that we had a great time together on our cruise. We refuse to have it any other way! We needed this time together!
Change Isn't Always for The Better
Now for HAL itself. As for the ship, we love it! It is the perfect size and passenger count. It is kept spotless! The crew should be proud. We have a good comparison as our last HAL cruise before this one was also the Zaandam. We were very disappointed in Holland America, as it is becoming exactly like its parent, Carnival. Maybe they need to change their name to Halival! As soon as we got aboard they kept trying to sell us the $50 soda cards. You tell them "no thanks," yet they keep coming at you relentlessly. We know they are just doing their jobs and we are not blaming the messenger, just the message. We get enough spam at home -- we don't need it on a cruise ship!
All the little things that made HAL unique that we fell in love with on our first HAL cruise on the old Westerdam are now gone. No more Dutch Night, no more afternoon lemonade at the aft pool. They spoiled us, so they are responsible for our disappointment. We don't accept change very well. It isn't that the current service was bad, it was not. It was okay, just not quite like it was. It seemed like they had so much to do they didn't have much time to spend with you. No more making things out of paper and cardboard like the last time on the Zaandam and all the other HAL cruises.
The Tip That Keeps On Giving
Just talking with some of the employees gives us the impression they are not happy with the new auto-tipping policy. They claim they now have to pay for all their uniforms. We were shocked they even talked about that. Always before they seemed content. We probably tipped more on this cruise than any we have taken, considering the auto-tip of $10 per day per person, which equaled $220.00 for our eleven days, and the extra we gave to our great waiter, Ross; his assistant, Felix; the Maitre 'd; Wine Steward; servers in the casino; Rolando and Arlene in the Piano Bar; the bartender in the Dolphin Bar; our cabin steward; and a few others who took care of us. We considered having the auto-tip removed completely to make sure those who deserved it the most got their share of the tip, however, we choose not to rock the boat! (By the way, we did get a Dutch hat, hand-painted from Rolando.)
Food & Service
Our wait staff was as good as on any cruise we have taken. The service they gave us was outstanding at our 8:30pm seating in the lower level of the Rotterdam Dining Room. The food, however, was not outstanding; it was bland and there were a lot of repeats. We were greatly disappointed, as we get plenty of bland food in our local restaurants! We attended open seating breakfast on four occasions in the Rotterdam, and on three of them the service was, well, embarrassingly lousy. They brought us and others the wrong orders and got angry when we tried to correct them. They would bring pancakes without syrup, forget juices, toast, etc., completely and take forever to correct the mistakes they claimed were others'. We were shocked. One morning we arrived at a table for six with the women all looking into the sun. The wait staff refused to close the curtain, so we got up and closed it ourselves.
The breakfast and lunch buffet in the Lido were okay, with lunch being better. Hamburgers, etc., at the grill were good, except for the fact that the grill was not working properly and for a few days was not working at all -- a well-done burger was not be had. Oh well, that's life. One thing we did like was at entrances to all the dining facilities were motion-activated automatic hands cleansing stations. They were also at the gangways. It is a great idea if they would enforce everyone using them, which they did not. It seemed to be about fifty-fifty.
Our cabin 2626 (mid-ship outside, on Main Deck port side), was exactly what we expected. There was plenty of storage and a cabin steward who hides under your bed until you leave. Just kidding! He did a great job, except for keeping Rita supplied with fresh bottled water, which they rightly charge for. I also used it for my bottle of scotch which miraculously showed up in our cabin! Rita called him once for water and he told her we would have to get it from Room Service. Huh? After that we just picked it up at one of the bars on the way to our cabin.
Showroom entertainment was excellent as far as the singers and dancers go. The Hoosier Comedian was very funny, of course! The xylophone performer was, what can I say, kinda boring. The singer/impressionist, Paul Tanner, whom we have seen on two other cruises, was excellent. The jazz trio in the Ocean Lounge was only so-so. We love to dance and ended up mainly in the Piano Lounge listening and dancing to Sonia Marie. We even showed up for her sing-a-longs and when she played the "Tennessee Waltz," well by gosh, we got up and did the waltz by ourselves! The group in the Crows Nest were A+ and we danced up there quite a bit. The showroom band was also A+. They played at most of the port sail-a-ways. Speaking of that, the staff was very unimaginative and played the same stupid passenger games each time. The "Rock and Rolldies" passenger show was very good and funny. We take special interest in that show since we were in it on the Maasdam. I was Elvis, and Rita was one of Bobby Darin's Splish-Splash girls.
Ports & Shopping
The only new port for us was the Dominican Republic and we enjoyed going downtown for a little shopping. We bought all the daughters and granddaughters necklaces in Santo Domingo. As far as Cozumel, Grand Cayman, Tortola, St. Martin, and St. Thomas, we have "been there done that," so we just got off and walked around or took a taxi. We did some shopping, or we just stopped for a drink. We did not book any shore excursions at all. I did find a nice bracelet in St. Thomas to match a necklace, ear rings, and ring set I got Rita for our anniversary. At Half Moon Cay I went parasailing for my birthday, and with that and the long walk we always take on the island's beautiful beach, our time was spent: no time for anything else.
Disembarking & Final Thoughts
We did not disembark the ship until about 10:00 and the shuttle to the hotel was not around. We were eager to get on the road, so we took a taxi. The shuttles were there loading passengers for the Carnival and Disney ships in port. We probably would have had to have waited at least an hour, so taking the taxi was a good move.
We hope nobody gets the impression we did not have a great cruise, because we did! We make do with what we have. As we stated above, nobody is going to prevent us from having a great cruise. Will we sail HAL again? Maybe -- we never say "never." Will they still be our first choice? No, they will not be. Would we recommend them to others? Not as adamantly as we once did; we would now recommend other lines before them. We must state that this is the only opinion we are entitled to have -- our own.
Photos courtesy of Keith Smith, Holland America Line, and The SeaLetter files
Keith & Rita were married in 1997, went on the inaugural SeaLetter
Cruise Bash, and have been cruising ever since. They are also
very active in The SeaLetter Cruise Forum. You can read their
other reviews here in The SeaLetter: Veendam and Maasdam.
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