Holland America Line Volendam Alaska July 7, 2003
This was my tenth cruise to date. I've cruised previously on Norwegian, Princess, Royal Caribbean, Celebrity and Holland America. It was my third cruise to Alaska -- one of my favorite itineraries, especially considering I live in Vancouver and an airline trip is not required. We had a Category A "mini-suite" verandah cabin on the Navigation Deck (cabin 7045 on the starboard side).
I didn't have high expectations. Everything I'd heard said that Holland America was still not doing a good job on their embarkation, despite the changeover to computerized immigration forms and a new system. WRONG!
The change from their old system (which was dreadfully slow and cumbersome) to this new one was absolutely amazing. We'd input all our immigration data beforehand AND printed out and brought a copy of the info with us (as suggested on the HAL website) to the pier. Departure time was 5 p.m. and embarkation was due to start at 2 p.m. We called a cab around 1:20 and arrived at Canada Place about 1:40. As promised, we got an express embarkation line, filled out the "SARS" question sheet (while standing - takes 2 seconds), handed that in, went directly up to the counter, got room key cards, and were onboard within five minutes!
I was completely impressed with this system. Previously I thought Princess was the best at embarkation, but I think HAL has them beat now -- although why they don't take your credit card information at the time you sign in, rather than making you have to line up at a later time at the purser's office is beyond me. All the other lines I've sailed manage to get that info taken up front before you board.
Cabin Maintenance and Attendant
We did not get a good cabin steward on this trip. He didn't introduce himself, ask our names or where we were from, and was often hours behind in cleaning the room – e.g., we'd leave the room at 10 a.m. and he wouldn't get around to cleaning it until 1:00 or 1:30 p.m. Any other cruise I've been on, the steward seems to automatically (as if by magic) know when you've left and, voila, 10 minutes later you can come back to a clean room!
I started off having to find him on the first afternoon as there was no soap in the room, neither hand nor bath. Later he tried to come into the room to make it up for the night around 7 p.m., knowing that we were at second seating which doesn't commence until 8 p.m. He would take the comforter off the bed every night and fold it away, whereas we wanted it on. We had to put it on ourselves each night and he would always see it on the next day.
We ran out of the little hand soap bar on Day 3, but never received another one. We did thankfully have some of our own soap and anti-bacterial cleanser with us.
One day we went back to our cabin after lunch to find the door lock would not open. Both of our key cards registered red lights. I went searching for the steward --- his comment was, "door not working, don't know why, called locksmith long time ago." I tried to impress upon him to call again before he went off shift for the afternoon, as it was absolutely necessary that we gain access to get our helicopter excursion tickets for a glacier tour and some proper clothing. He replied, "are you sure you need to room now?" Oh, yes, I'm sure, please call maintenance again. They did eventually come and let us in the room, so we made our excursion. I wonder what would have happened had we not grabbed him and made it clear that it needed fixing ASAP. On another day the toilet would not flush for about two hours. We called down to the front desk and were told they'd been advised by several others of the problem, and were looking into it.
Good points about the room were the balcony and the bed, which was quite comfortable. We had morning breakfast from room service, which was always good and delivery was always on time.
We had just returned less than six weeks prior from a trip onboard RCI's "Legend of the Seas," and the differences in cleanliness between that ship and the Volendam were amazing. On Legend OTS, people were constantly cleaning everywhere - public washrooms, railings, elevators, hallway art --- just everywhere, all day and night. Even the buns and bread were handed out by the assistant waiter rather than left on table. We felt as if we could eat off the floors.
On this sailing of the Volendam, I was amazed at the lack of cleanliness. I did not notice at any time (other than the final morning in Lido) people wiping down anything, cleaning public washrooms, walls, elevators, gym equipment, etc. It gave me the feeling that RCI maintains their ships on a higher level.
Several locations on Upper Promenade Deck 5 were very smoky. My partner has asthma and found this a floor to avoid if at all possible, except for the Rotterdam Dining Room. The smell of smoke drifted through the Ocean Bar, Casino, Seaview Lounge and Explorer's Lounge. HAL seems to have a disproportionate amount of smokers onboard, and it gets annoying when you can't enjoy various parts of the ship, or even your own balcony (watch for the cigar smokers on balconies).
I was disappointed to notice that people apparently are starting to "dress down" on formal nights. I'd rented a tuxedo and actually felt out of place wearing it, as there were so few among the other passengers. I realize that Alaska is quite casual during the day and one needs extra clothes for the possible rain and cool weather, but it seemed that many people were dressed kind of "frumpy" on formal nights compared to most other ships I've sailed.
There were several children and teens on this sailing, and they were very energetic and well-behaved.
My guess would be the approximate age on this sailing was around 45; we saw every age from newborns right on up.
Rotterdam Dining Room
We had second seating, at a table for two on the upper level. We had extremely bad service here. I have usually enjoyed the dining room experience, and looked forward to it each night as the waiters, assistant waiters, etc. are usually such nice folks and go out of their way to be pleasant. The maitre d' and head waiters never showed their presence the whole cruise. Our waiter and assistant waiter did not introduce themselves or ask our names. It was an odd feeling, as I'd never seen such a distant wait staff on a cruise ship before. Our waiter (who was probably in mid to late 40s) on two different nights dropped plates to the floor. One night he knocked over my partner's ginger ale on the table and then dropped a fork on his suit trying to right the glass. He frequently put the orders in the wrong places on surrounding tables as well as ours. He only had a total of 16 people in his station. We spoke with some of the other guests, who were not very happy either.
I had nothing dropped on me, just a couple of wrong salad dressings and one night no fork to go with the Key Lime Pie – and it took 10 minutes to flag him down for one. The swan amongst the ugly ducklings in the dining room was Bartender/Sommelier Evangeline, who would have our ginger ales and sodas on the table each night before we arrived and would stop by and have a nice chat with us. Thank God for her or we'd have had no staff at all speak to us in the dining room. Our wait staff never talked to us, other than to ask the order. They never recommended a meal either.
Although our particular service was lacking, the taste of the food itself was wonderful -- far better on the Volendam than on the back-to-back Statendam cruises we took last fall. (On the Statendam, however, we had fantastic service everywhere, which made up for not-so-great food and some other mishaps.)
We avoided "Dutch" night, and made reservations for the Pinnacle Grill at the Marco Polo" that night instead. We'd tried the new Pinnacle Grill on the Statendam twice and knew what to expect. We were certainly not disappointed. The menu is fantastic, well worth the $20 charge. We had wonderful service from staff there, and left them a nice (cash) tip to show our appreciation.
There were very good naturalists onboard and we had just a fantastic day in Glacier Bay. The weather cooperated the whole week - sunny and clear skies. We spent a couple of hours at Margerie Glacier on different sides of the ship and saw plenty of calving. I'll have some pictures up to my albums soon. Ours was the only ship in the area at that particular time.
We opted for the "Four Glacier Adventure by Helicopter" tour. This was spectacular! Our pilot Jamaica was terrific, and she was able to answer all our questions. She landed us on a beautiful glacier and it was totally awe-inspiring. To go out walking on a glacier, taste the fresh running water, and breathe the clean air defies description. You just have to do it yourself to get an inkling. We captured many digital pictures on this excursion.
We went on the "Glacier Point Wilderness Safari" tour. This is another great tour, one I'd been on a couple years ago. This combines a high-speed catamaran ride with a hike and then a canoe up to Davidson Glacier. We had spectacular weather for this one as well and it was an exhilarating experience. Some of the people from southern climes were a little chilly and needed extra clothing (supplied by the tour), but for us the temps were just right.
Here we took the "Magnificent Misty Fjords by Floatplane" excursion. This entails about an hour's flight with a 10-minute landing in a lake. This was a super tour! At the request of the tour people (and their generous offer of a nice Promech Air baseball cap) my partner and I were separated onto different planes and were both able to copilot these planes. This was a terrific experience for me (as well as an ideal spot to get more fantastic pictures).
We were quite tired most evenings after late dinner and did not stay up to watch the late shows in the Lounge. Most of the public areas were too smoky and that kept us away from them as well. One night we did get to catch the Volendam singers and dancers in a Broadway Production number called "Showstoppers," which was very well performed by all.
The final day, Sunday, was spent at sea on our way back to Vancouver. As we'd had such lousy service on this cruise, we were not very sad about having to disembark in the morning. Although I tried to have an open mind and go at this in a positive vein, I am left with a bitter taste in my mouth for Holland America. Perhaps it's just not my particular "fit".
It may be that I'll need to hang up my Mariner's Pin for a few years, and stick with just the cruise lines and ships that feel perfect for me. After my limited experiences, I am still inclined to say Royal Caribbean and Celebrity are the ones that give me the right feel.