The H.A.L. flagshib, "M.S.Amsterdam" is physically a most attractive ship with classic lines, teak decks, large and comfortable rooms,and a well-planned layout.She is not glitzy, but rich and charming instead.
This was our thirteenth and fourteenth cruises respectively, three of which have been with Holland America.In the past year we have sailed the Star Princess, Ocean Princess, Celebrity Zenith, as well has the Radiance of the seas (R.C.C.L.).Thus we have recent experience on other lines, with which to make comparisons.We were attracted to Holland America Line because of their reputation in Alaska, the "classic sailing ship" ambiance, and our fantastic memories from our first Alaska cruise on the Westerdam in 1999.
Our expectations were high but the cruise itself was disappointing in some ways but still excellent in others:
We live near Portland, Oregon. Thus we had a three hour drive to the terminal at pier #30, where lots of parking was available at a reasonable charge of $84 for the week.We had a category "S" suite on the Navigation Deck #7.Embarkation went very smoothly for suite passengers but also seemed to be quite smooth for all passengers.Our cabin was quite large, well designed,and very comfort-able.The furnishings and linens in the room were of good quality while the colors were inviting, rich, and warm.The deck was a generous 12 feet deep and 21 feet wide.It had two comfortable lounge chairs, a round table, with seating for four. We were obviously impressed by our stateroom. Our cabin steward was excellent and had clearly been well trained. He quietly did his job efficiently with no intrusion.
The concierge service and lounge on our deck was a big plus. They always had answers to our many questions, accompanied by fresh squeezed orange juice, coffees, teas, and snacks.There were videos and magazines available as well as sofas and game tables.It was a most comfortable place to relax from time to time.The best part was that it was only a few steps from our cabin.
Although we chose to do our own touring, the excursions seemed well planned and other cruisers seemed very pleased with the organized tour part of their cruises.The weather was rainy a large part of the time, but that is certainly not the fault of the cruise line.We're from the Northwest and have learned not to allow weather to dampen our spirits.We enjoyed Alaska to its fullest.The highlight was a private tour of Sitka. We have friends who are Tlinkit Native Americans. They gave us their insiders tour of the area followed by a very nice lunch at their home on the bay. We really enjoyed the entire day, especially the museum and cultural center.We had to tender at this port. H.A.L. did an excellent job with this difficult task. There was little crowding or waiting.Now for the negatives...
I am sad to report that the food on this trip was of inferior quality most of the time.Holland America has really cut corners on meal service.At our table, many dishes were returned to the kitchen as unacceptable.Even the special captain's luncheon for "suites only" passengers was cheap and of very poor quality.
As examples of cheapening food services, one day we were planning to invite four friends to our cabin for a glass of wine before dinner. We ordered three cheese and cracker plates from room service.(Thinking three plates with cheeses of different shapes and color could be combined to make one adequate cheese tray as a simple start-er.) We received six incredibly thin and small pieces of white imitation jack cheese and twelve white saltines on an ugly white plate, nothing else.This did not even kind of make an attractive offering for our guests.
Service in the bars was poor and the bar appetizers that H.A.L. is famous for were nearly non-existant. That has never been the case before.Fresh squeezed O.J. is now only available for suites passengers in the concierge lounge and "sometimes" for the "early-risers" breakfast in the Lido.Regular breakfast service is now serving only frozen or canned juices.There is also no cheese available in the taco bar.
Finally, after several sub-standard and sometimes down right lousy meals, we abandoned our dinner table and chose two nights to eat at the Pinnacle Grill at an additional $20 charge per person.(Food there was of high quality and had an excellent presentation.) An additional two nights we ate in port. We ate at the Warf Restaurant in Juneau and had outstanding dungeness crab dinners at a very moderate price.(This was after the obligatory visit to the Red Dog Saloon for libations.) In Victoria, we ate at Matisse Restaurant and had one of the finest meals of our lives.I would highly recommend this charming small French restaurant to anyone visiting Victoria.
We were thus able to work around the terrible food quality offered by the ship's food service. We did, however, leave the cruise feeling cheated. Generous and quality food, well presented, is what most people expect on a cruise. Cutting corners here will stop repeat cruisers and loyal customers in their tracks. I personally have highly recommended H.A.L. to friends in the past. I will stop doing so in the future. In fact I am booked on the Veendam in November and am considering the cancellation of this cruise.The only reason we may keep our reservations is that we already purchased our airfare and we do like the unusual itinerary with three "new-to-us" ports-of-call.
This empty feeling we are left with is sad to both of us because We were such great Holland America fans.Not anymore!