I’m an enthusiastic cruiser who’s taken about 20 cruises on four major cruise lines (Princess, Royal Caribbean, Celebrity and Carnival). A friend and I recently completed my first Holland America cruise on the Zuiderdam and compiled a list of Holland America Cruise Line pros and cons (good and bad features).
Good Things about Holland America Cruise Line
- We originally booked an inside cabin to save money and were offered an upgrade to a balcony cabin for $250 each (which we took!)
- A group of white synthetic leather-like lounge chairs around the pool was incredibly comfortable.
- The larger pool had a open/close roof, so you could sit by the pool if it rained. (However, when the sun was out they normally didn’t open the roof all the way and the space was incredibly humid and hot.)
4. Every other cruise ship we’ve been on has photographers who take photos of guests and print and display them in a gallery for sale. Zuiderdam used a digital photo viewing system where, using facial recognition, all a guest’s photos were automatically grouped. You just swiped your room card and could view all your photos and order a digital copy ($19.99) and additional prints, and could also order custom gifts like coasters, mugs, etc. with cruise photos on them. It was fun to crop and play around with our photos and see what they’d look like on the gift products; however, in the end, we weren’t at our most photogenic and didn’t buy any… You had to buy a digital copy of each photo, too, before you could have them printed or make custom gifts with them — so it was $19.99 plus the price of those things.
5. Holland America offered a $25 package — called something like Luggage Direct — to have your luggage delivered to the airport at the end of the cruise before debarkation and boarded on the plane. All you had to do was pick it up at your destination (even if you had connecting flights). We both did this to avoid the hassle of going to a huge terminal to pick out our suitcases, going through customs with them, getting them to the airport, etc. — and it worked well.
6. Although there wasn’t any drawers in the cabin to store clothes — other than the two night stands — the storage closets each had adjustable shelves in them as well as hanging areas.
7. Our sliding glass door to the balcony had a key and could be locked using it. That seemed safer than the slider lock other ships use.
8. The ship’s decor was beautiful and understated (in a good way).
9. The exterior elevator doors were gorgeous! They looked like a mix of gold and silver carvings.
10. Elevators had “day-of-the-week” carpets in them — very helpful on a cruise when you forget what day it is!
11. Carpeting throughout the ship had thick padding, giving it a plush, luxurious feel.
12. Spiral staircases in the atrium were carpeted; it looked pretty, felt good and made them feel safer.
13. The ship had many, many well-decorated lobbies with comfortable seating – clear down to and including on the first floor. We didn’t have time to sit in them all!
14. Our room had a full bathtub, which made the shower area much larger.
15. Our room had motion-activated floor lights on the floor across from the bathroom which was helpful for middle-of-the-night trips, and a great safety feature.
16. Our room had abundant electric plugs and USB sockets! (See caveat on #19 below.)
17. The ship shops offered a nice travel charm bracelet deal where cruisers could get a chain and five travel-related charms for $10. (The promotion for it was, however, confusing – with multiple offers of free and discount chairs that weren’t easy to understand.) My friend did get a charm bracelet and was happy with it.
Bad Things about Holland America Cruise Line
1. This cruise line clearly caters to elderly, sedentary cruisers. We’re over 50 but active and fun-loving, so it wasn’t a good fit for us.
2. This ship had very, very limited onboard active and fun activities. I guess it was relaxing — but we thought it bordered on boring. You’d enjoy it if things you like to do on vacation include going to teas, playing bridge and chess, listening to live classical music performances and seeing evening shows featuring dancers. These things put me to sleep… but we did sit in comfortable chairs and read a lot of books. And we did the two line dancing classes.
3. Zuiderdam, because it’s a smaller ship, had no chairs at all available in the inside, large pool area many times. Lots of people put towels on the chairs and were nowhere to be seen. We resorted to sunbathing on decks with chairs that were nowhere near a pool — and the sun got to be scorching very fast! Or we sat on our balcony (which we – thankfully – had).
4. There was no poolside entertainment. Princess cruise line has outdoor movies by the pool, live bands, etc. but this ship had none. They did play some piped in music.
5. Zuiderdam also had very limited seating in the casual dining room. Many days we had to ask other people if we could share their table so we could sit and eat at all, which wasn’t comfortable for any of us.
6. The ship was way too cold onboard, so we had to wear jackets all the time. I’m from the South where they like cold air conditioning in the summer, but this was too cold for me!
7. The onboard lectures and events focused on subjects like swollen ankle reduction, wrinkle reduction and arthritis pain. In fact, they repeated the swollen ankle discussion so it must’ve been popular.
8. We ordered large bottles of water for our room in advance, since we’ve done it in the past and it was easy to put them in the refrigerator and take them along to shore excursions and drink from them all day. It also saved money over buying a bottle of water while leaving the ship ($4.10 each for a small bottle of water on Holland America!).
However — we were horrified to see that the large bottles were glass and had caps that had to be removed with a bottle opener (like old Coke bottles)! We had no bottle opener – because it was never mentioned when we ordered them – and had to run down the room stewart or take a bottle to a bar to have a bartender uncap them. Every time. And once the bottles were opened, they couldn’t be resealed, carried along, and used all day either. As a result, about 8 of the 12 bottles of water we ordered, we never used – so that ended up costing us money, not saving money…
9. Our cabin was small. We couldn’t both walk across the room at the end of the bed at the same time. The balcony seemed smaller than usual, too – and was cramped if you sat on the chairs facing forward. At the end of the week, we discovered it was roomier if we put the chairs on each end of the balcony (facing each other) with a coffee table/foot rest in between.
10. No 24/7 self-service ice cream was available. It seemed like a cost-cutting effort to control portions because a server had to scoop it, and it was limited to meal times. How much more could it cost to let people serve themselves?
11. There was absolutely nothing to snack on after 9:30 when the dining rooms closed. We actually went to bed hungry several nights – and finally had to go to the ship store to buy snacks. Who goes hungry on a cruise ship????
12. The formal dining room meals were not great.
13. The formal dining room dessert selection was small and bad. No cheesecake – ever!
14. The ship library was extremely small with a very limited number of book selections.
15. Ship communications announced nightly live theater performances for the entire week at the beginning, unlike other cruise lines. That was fine – except there were only three nights with comedians and/or illusionists (the shows I enjoy), so it was kind of a downer…
16. The steps on the interior staircases were very narrow, making it necessary to “walk like a penguin” when traveling up and down them. Maybe everyone used the elevators?
17. The bathroom sink in our cabin sprayed water all over the countertop every time it was used – so it was wet, messy and annoying.
18. Plastic cards with a bar code used for onboard payment, departure/return to the ship and to enter the cabin had a very poor quality print job on them. The ink wore almost completely off both of our cards early in the week – making it necessary for us to go to guest relations to get new ones. Have never seen that problem on a cruise line!
19. The abundant electric plugs in our rooms wouldn’t accommodate either of our hair dryers! They were placed too close other items and the hair dryers had a “stem” on them. When we were forced to use the hair dryer provided with the cabin that used foreign voltage, the cord wouldn’t stay in the plug. As a result, we had to manually hold the plug in the socket and dry our hair with the other hand. 🙁
20. Formal dining room service was slow and not up to the standards we expected.
21. Communication about events wasn’t good; the daily newsletter said, for example, that bingo tickets would be sold at a certain time. They didn’t mention that the bingo games also took place then. The written and verbal instructions for the mandatory back-to-the-U.S. immigration meetings said it was OK to take official government ID (which to me means a driver’s license) but when we got in the long line and waited to get to the front, the person then said we must show our passports). The time changed an hour one day on the cruise and we didn’t know anything about it!
Cruising is inherently fun, especially if you go with someone you like – and this cruise was fun. The shore excursions and beaches were good, we got some sun and warm weather in the middle of winter, and vacation always beats being at work!
Although the vacation was nice, we will never travel on Holland America cruise line again.
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