I'd like to give my comments on our recent Holland America cruise 'round New Zealand and Australia.
I started the cruise with no preconceptions about Holland America, or how they may compare to other lines. We have been on several cruises before, all on different lines, to different continents.
The cruise was 17 days and over the Christmas/New Year period.
Overview: Let me start off with my thoughts on the ship, the Volendam. In all honesty, it is starting to look its age. It might be only 10 years old, but seems more. I would like to say that it has "understated elegance," but that wouldn't really be true. It doesn't really fit into any category. Neither lavish, nor modern. That's not to say it's a bad ship. Perhaps 'bland' would be the best way to describe it.
Whilst it is aimed at the family sector, it shouldn't be. We are in our 40s with children, and at times felt quite out of place. Most of the older passengers are clearly uncomfortable with children on the ship, and were not shy in coming forward to say that. If you are a family with children, then Holland America is probably not for you.
Now on to facilities: Volendam is a midsized ship so has most of the necessities, but not in any great numbers or variety. Our cruise included six sea days in total and three in a row. We felt that more facilities would have been better, and certainly more activities laid on than they did.
Before I go on to my in-depth review, my short appraisal would be 5/10. It's not my best cruise experience, not by a long shot. There was nothing terribly wrong with it.... we just left feeling the ship, staff, and facilities could have been much better.
Now in detail:
Cabins: Here I have no complaints at all. They are quite spacious, with good storage, and perfectly adequate bathrooms. The TV system has the usual mix of CNN, ESPN, in-house movies and ship channels showing tour guides, events, etc. There is also a DVD player and movies you can rent.
Restaurants: The main restaurant is the Rotterdam, straddling two floors on the 4th and 5th. The Volendam had both fixed seating and dine as you wish. We had the latter, which worked perfectly well. We started off the cruise by making prior bookings for each evening, but found out that really wasn't necessary. We were a table of six and never had difficulty being seated as we rolled up. The food in general was excellent, nicely prepared and presented. There was good choice, though the menu did repeat itself on a few occasions. In particular, great effort was made for both the Christmas and New Year meals.
The 'Pinnacle' - the alternative, chargeable restaurant. ($20 pp for dinner and $10 for lunch.) This was a disappointment. We found the food to be below the standard of the main dining room, which should not be the case. There is a small selection on offer and is limited to three courses (as opposed to the dining room which has a far more varied selection.) The quality of cuisine was just not up to standard. We ordered a selection of steak, seafood and vegetarian. None were exceptional. If you request anything in addition or different to the three courses, there is a further charge. We were scheduled to dine there four times, but canceled after the first visit.
Lido Buffet restaurant. Pretty much does what is says on the can. Breakfasts generally are good, with plenty of selection. Lunch was more changeable, some days better than others. On the odd occasion we ate there in the evening, we found it to be lacking in imagination, and the least good of the meals.
By the Lido Deck pool there is an all-day grill section that offers up burgers, pizza, tacos, etc. Useful if you get hungry in between .
There are a selection around the ship, which have music at varying times.
Pool deck : known as the Lido. There are two pools. One is mid-ship with a retractable roof, and other other is open air at the stern. Most of the time there was sufficient seating, with a mix of chairs and recliners. However, there is little entertainment, and this was a recurring theme. Whilst there was a bandstand, there was little to no live music being played on it, nor background music over the speakers. So you'd better like a quiet poolside experience.
Evening Shows: on five nights there was the ships singers/dancers. Mostly good and polished. Other nights there was a selection of singers/comedians/jugglers. They were mostly poor and pretty second rate. Think amateur cabaret night.
Kids club. This is not the ship's best facet. Hours are limited, and you really have the over-riding feeling that Holland America is providing it through clenched teeth. The staff are cheery and do their best, but there is only so much they can do. Added to which, note my earlier comment, that most passengers are hostile to children on board. We had two particularly nasty incidents where our children were lashed out at.
Ports of call:
Here we have mixed feelings. Whilst we booked this cruise, and thus must be ultimately to blame, we felt the itinerary thoroughly lacked imagination. Some stops were fantastic, while others left you thinking "why on earth did we stop there for?" Whilst this was a 17-night cruise, it could easily have been compacted down to 12 or 13 by cutting out the tedious places. Many of the passengers were complaining and/or suspicious of some of the port selections (more on that below.) Is Holland America being offered incentives to stop at some clearly tedious places?
The Cruise started in Auckland, New Zealand. We got here 30 hours before departure. This is probably more than enough. Once you see the Sky Tower, the harbor and downtown area, you have got the essence of it all. Do make sure to visit Parnell Village on the outskirts. It is a quaint and picturesque suburb.
Tauranga - a good stop, the most interesting part being the thermal springs and geysers at Rotarua. Our tour only permitted 1 1/2 hours there. We could have done with much more.
Napier - a pretty art deco town. We strolled round the town and enjoyed the photography.
Gisborne - what on earth did we go there for? In advance, the captain proudly advised us we were the first ship of this size to come. I can understand why. Nothing of merit there.
Wellington. Lived up to its nickname, and was windy. Unfortunately, we came on a Sunday and the city was all closed up. The government buildings and botanical gardens are pretty. The over-hyped Te Mata museum didn't live up to expectations.
Christchurch - very pretty. We did the trams/punting/gondola. A great stop.
Dunedin - a bleak day, weather-wise. Made it feel even more Scottish. We visited Speights brewery and thereafter found the town a little drab. Sorry about that.
Oban - on Stewart Island. This was the most controversial stop of all. The township has a population of 300 and our cruise had 1400. What would Oban do if we all descended upon it? In the end it was a mute point as it was a rough day and many opted not to tender in. For the record, it was just okay. A bit quaint, you did see a remote lifestyle, two shops, a pub and a post office.
Next day scenic cruising in the New Zealand Fjords. One of the real highlights of the cruise. Stunningly beautiful, especially in Milford Sound.
We then had two days crossing the Tasman Sea. At times it got very rough, at the peak it was force 12. The First Officer later commented it was the worst seas they had encountered for some time. For two days the public areas were very empty.
Burnie, Tasmania. Big topic of annoyance amongst passengers. Most felt we should be going to Hobart, or at least somewhere more interesting in Tasmania. The town is small and has very little to offer.
Melbourne - a pleasure to visit. You catch the tram into town right from the dock. The city is vibrant, picturesque, and friendly. Why weren't we here for two days? We could easily have cut out Oban or Gisborne or Burnie and spent more tome here. To add insult to injury, we didn't even have a long day here and had to he on board by 5.30.
The cruise ended in Sydney. Always iconic to sail under the harbor bridge and dock right opposite the Opera House. It was our last full day and perfectly central.
In conclusion: the cruise could have been so much better.... Why?
The ports of call were oddly chosen. Gisborne, Oban, and Burnie quite simply should not have been on the schedule. And where we could have spent more time, we were short changed - think Christchurch and Melbourne. Was Holland America deliberately trying to spin this out to 17 days?
The entertainment on board was lacking, and where provided, was unimaginative. There were many days when there was virtually nothing on.
Crew interaction - there was almost none. The staff don't seem to want to mingle or meet you. If you want to air any issue with them, or even to say hello, you pretty much can't. Especially so the cruise director, who made no attempt to meet with you.
Apart from coffee tea and water, no other drinks are available without cost.
Small note about Captain Bos - odd guy. Never saw him, gives his daily briefings over the tannoy. Seems kindly. Has a fetish about cleaning your hands.
The pool was closed for three straight days, with poor excuses given.
Did we enjoy the cruise? Yes, but not so as we would do it again. 5/10