Holland America vs Disney
We were on the Eastern Caribbean cruise over Christmas 2003 - we paid the same price for the 7 day cruise and got joining balcony staterooms as if we had done Disney without balcony. We had been on Disney for the Millennium Cruise to Eastern Caribbean in 1999 and this is a review based on both experiences.
We had heard that Holland America is a 4* or 4*+ cruise line and we weren't disappointed. We sailed from Port Canaveral - and the check-in process was extremely efficient. The cabins were on the 3rd deck - My wife and I had one cabin with a Queen bed and our 2 kids had the adjoining cabin with twin beds set up. The porter arranged the balcony so that the kids could go back and forth between the rooms.
Food is the primary reason for any cruise. The food was excellent on the Zandaam - there are two main restaurants on board, a casual dining restaurant for breakfast adisney has more restaurants, which becomes more varied for dining - and the stewards are assigned to a family. On both cruise ships there is an up-market restaurant for adults. I strongly recommend both, although there is a nominal charge.
We opted for the "World Wine Tour" - which was a little pricey, and provided us with 5 bottles from a list of about 7 or 8 wines. I wish the list were a little longer and more varied. Both ships varied the menus and the dress code nightly.
Both ships have poolside dining during the day. Holland America had a barbeque, which was a great alternative.
All alcohol is charged for, understandably - and both lines are expensive. Holland America charges for alcohol in the Casino. On the Zaandam, our eldest (under 16) successfully purchased alcohol with a group of his friends. We reprimanded both the line (and our son) - Disney ID's everyone.
Both Disney and Holland America charge for soft drinks, which is annoying. They both charge for a "card" at around $30 or which provides free soda. It is easy to forget the card and end up paying anyway. Disney provides younger guests a soft-drink sticker for the room card - much better. I'd prefer if Cruise lines just added $20-$30 per passenger for free soft drinks.
Entertainment on the Zaandam is chintzy and is catered toward mature passengers. Both lines have a cinema on board that show relatively recent releases. Disney only shows Disney movies. There are activities throughout the day on both ships, although auctions are expensive and should be avoided.
The Zaandam has a casino, which is open all day, and into the early hours. This is a fundamental difference from Disney. The casino had too many slot machines, causing too much noise. It is possible to guide the kids around the casino - but the opening entices younger children with the flashing lights of the slots.
The casino could also benefit with better ventilation. I smoke myself, but I could tell that the smoke bothered some of the people playing there. I'd encourage smoking and non-smoking tables, reduce the slots, and quieten the area down.
On the Zaandam, there are two pools on board - one small indoor, the other outdoor. There were always a lot of teens playing around the smaller pool, which made parents uncomfortable. Disney has 3 pools including one for only "over 21's" and one for smaller kids.
There were a number of bars around the ship - and although the cruise was full, the bars were quiet and mostly you had the area to yourself. Both cruise lines excel in this - however, Disney has a sports bar called the "ESPN Zone" - compared to the Zaandam which only had a single television in a bar near the casino.
I have a younger child - 5 years old - who was signed up to "Club Hal". I was impressed by the activities that they provided to the kids - but realistically the "counselors" were nothing like the Disney staff - which is completely expected. Disney really KNOW how to handle kids - we had some issues with our youngest getting into the spirit of the games and he was left out of one activity on the Zaandam because that activity was full. Disney would never leave kids out of activities.
If you're going to sail somewhere, you really need time to see that place. This was a major complaint on my behalf with Holland America. We sailed into St Martin, which provided an all day excursion and was excellent. The following day was spent at Tortola BVI, and we arrived at about 8am and had to leave at 4pm. Two days later, we arrived at the private Half Moon Cay at 10am and left at 2pm. Disney seems to always ensure that you get to a place early, and leave after sundown - ensuring you have plenty of time at the destination. We felt rushed at Tortola and Half Moon Cay.
Half Moon Cay was annoying. It was certainly beautiful - but Holland America decided to have the Zaandam AND the Zuiderdam berth on the same day on the Island - resulting in a completely over-crowded beach. I took off towards the North of the Island to escape the horrible overpacked crowds (something you'd expect to NOT see on a cruise) - but the limitation of time resulted in a long walk and no relaxation.
Disney built a dock for their boats on their island - and had many, many activities available that made you want to stay longer than a single day. They guarantee that only one of their two ships will be at Castaway Cay (Disney's island). Holland America used their tenders to get to shore (resulting in long lines going and returning) and have failed miserably in comparison. Since this was the penultimate day, it was disappointing to an otherwise fine cruise.
In summary, Disney excels, but at a higher cost than Holland America. Its whether the 30-40% extra is worth it for your vacation. We are booked on the next Christmas Cruise with Disney for 2004.