We recently returned from our first Holland America cruise. Celebrity had always been our favorite cruise line, but Holland is threatening to take over first place. We have many clients who won’t sail anything but Holland. So we decided to see for ourselves what they were all about.
Holland America, like Celebrity, is a premium cruise line. What does that mean? Sometimes it’s the little things that make the difference. For example, Holland still had china dishes in the buffet area. (Even our beloved Celebrity has switched to plastic.) There is plenty of room between tables in the buffet area. One Princess cruise ship I was on barely left enough room between tables for you to push your chair back to leave the table. In the evening, the buffet tables have tablecloths, candles, and fresh flowers. Even the staff uniforms are nicer, slacks and a tunic, rather than the shorts and tropical shirts you find on Royal and Princess. The food was excellent, with a definite leaning toward gourmet dining. Sometimes we found the food a little too rich.
There was one thing Holland offers that we appreciated, since we do not bring formal clothes to wear in the dining room on formal nights. The buffet dinner menu had several dishes that were the same as those served in the dining room. You could have the same meal in the buffet that formal diners were enjoying in the dining room; you just had to bring it to the table yourself, a concession we were glad to make. There was another dining option for those of us who want to avoid dressing up, and that was the Canaletto restaurant on the lido deck. We enjoyed their Italian fare twice on this last cruise. This is the training ground for waiters aspiring to positions in the main dining room. Celebrity used to do the same thing with their “casual dining,” but alas they have discontinued this dining option. So we had excellent service from waiters eager to please the ever-present maitre d’ and excellent cuisine, while still in our comfortable “day” clothes.
The ship’s décor can be classified as “understated elegance” as opposed to the glitz and glamour of 10-story atriums.
I chuckled while listening to one fellow traveler commenting on the ride to the airport after the cruise. She was telling someone that she liked Royal Caribbean better because they had this big street of shops and lounges, obviously referring to the Mariner, whereas Holland only had a few shops. And there wasn’t as much to do. No rock climbing walls, no miniature golf, no water slides, no ice skating rink and show, etc. I thought to myself, she obviously booked her own cruise online, because if she had spoken with a reputable travel agent, they would have advised her of the difference between Royal Caribbean and Holland.
Young families might not enjoy a Holland cruise, but for those of us over 55, we don’t participate in many of those other activities anyway.
Not that there was a lack of things to do. The enrichment program on Holland is outstanding. The daily activity sheet had the many offerings of their four different enrichment programs prominently displayed. The travel expert gave presentations on the ports of call, Mexican history and culture, available shore excursions, and even a few courses in basic Spanish. The technology expert had six to seven daily hands-on presentations on computers, digital cameras, uploading and sharing photography, Windows 7, and more. The health and wellness experts had many daily activities from tai chi, yoga, water aerobics, back pain management, sleep seminars, make-up tips, dance lessons, as well as trivia. But by far my favorites were the food and entertainment presentations, held in the culinary arts center. There we observed the master chef from the specialty restaurant prepare several dishes for us to sample. Other offerings were bar mixology, wine tasting, edible bouquets, kitchen tours and even the daily high tea featured teas and baked goods from different world regions. Much more interesting than the same old scones and finger sandwiches offered on other cruise lines.
Our ocean view stateroom had a bathtub, and therefore the largest shower we have seen at sea. Larger than normal bath towels and robes were thoroughly enjoyed.
The room service menu had many more items than the usual salads and sandwiches we have seen on other lines. Every stateroom had a DVD player, and there was a vast DVD library where you could request movies that were delivered to your room. I thought that this would be very nice if one were confined to their stateroom because of a norovirus. It must be noted that in an effort to prevent a norovirus outbreak, the first two days you are served everything in the buffet, thus eliminating cross contamination of serving utensils.
On this particular Mexican itinerary, there were more than 2,000 guests on board; more than 1,100 of whom were repeat cruisers with Holland. I now understand why Holland enjoys the largest number of repeat cruisers in the cruise industry. While onboard, we took advantage of the future cruise deposit program. A reduced deposit of $100 per person can be used on any future cruise and will get us a $100 per cabin onboard credit for an ocean view cabin, more for a balcony. This can be combined with any group reduced rates and group amenities. What a great way to get extra benefits on a cruise that we were planning to take anyway, namely the 14-day Alaska round trip Seattle cruise that includes ports of call in Homer, Kodiak and Sitka.
Cruise counseling is available at Cruise Port Travel at no extra charge. Bring us your best online price, and we will try to match it. Many times we can do better, by taking advantage of the many group benefits available to us through our affiliation with Americas Vacation Center, or by looking at a different sail date. We will gladly share our firsthand knowledge of cruise lines, different ships, and itineraries. Cruise Port Travel is located at 900 W. Driftwood Dr. in Payson. Check out our specials, available group sailings, and travel blogs at www.travelpayson.com.