I have been posting this review as a day-to-day live blog on the Cruise Critic website and here. They don’t get the photos. I have been taking a lot of heat over there. I have been called entitled, whiny and SPOILED (their emphasis). Sorry, I don’t think that reporting what has happened to us (all eight of us in our group) and others that we spoke to is being whiny. We have been cruising long enough that I think we can give an accurate view of what happened to us on Koningsdam and call HAL out for it. And I write these to make people aware of what is going on.
Kathleen got really upset at one of the posts because they keep saying that they have done this or that and we must be wrong. She rightly pointed out that these are our viewpoints of what happened to us. Others may not have felt the same way. That is their experience. Certainly, some of those people who had a different cruise than we did have commented on that thread, and I would never call them names or impugn their character. I guess it takes all kinds. And sometimes I can’t believe the loyalty some people have to cruise lines that obviously need to improve. We are Elite Plus cruisers on Celebrity, and we are finished with them as well (except for Flora in the Galapagos). But I still hold out hope that they will come around and get back to their roots someday. It could happen.
But all that said, I did want to come back after a day or so to think about it and give you a final report with some good things and some bad things. I also realize that so many people who disagree with me have not read the entire thing. They have commented on my main dining room problem, and that is it.
The Good Stuff
There were good things we really liked about our cruise on Koningsdam. Here they are:
- The food and service in the specialty restaurants were both OUTSTANDING! We loved the dinners we had in all of them even though we were forced to eat in two of them because we couldn’t get into the main dining room and didn’t feel like eating in the buffet. On the drive home with my daughter-in-law and her husband, we rated the order of how good they were. My DIL surprised me when she rated them in this order: Rudi’s, Canaletto, Tamarind and Pinnacle Grille. I was surprised because she is a real Asian food fan, but she thought the Italian food was better. At all of them, the service was great as well. I just think Tamarind is the perfect specialty restaurant…great food, great service and the prettiest setting on a ship.
- The muster drill. Kudos to HAL for not returning to the old way of doing the muster drill. Being able to watch the video on your stateroom TV and then going to check in at your muster station in your own time frame was great! Keep that one. The best thing in cruising that came out of the pandemic was this improvement.
- Our stateroom was kept clean and shiny by our two very overworked stateroom attendants, Faisol and Mafa. They always had our room completely made up while we were at breakfast. Their speed and high standard were impressive.
- Just about every single crew member we encountered was doing an awesome job. Special kudos to the Activity Director (I wish I could remember her name), who is from South Africa. She ran some of the best trivia contests we have ever had on a ship. The rest of the crew is so overworked it is sad. And felt so bad for the new people who were on their first contract and just thrown to the wolves (so to speak) without adequate training.
- The entertainment was super. The band in BB Kings rocked. The comedian truly made us laugh. I should point out that he made a number of jokes about how bad embarkation was and got a lot of applause for doing it.
- Bettianne is an excellent cruise director. We sailed with her on Nieuw Statendam in January 2022, and it was great to touch base with her again.
- The HAL Mariner App isn’t bad. With eight people in our group, I wish they had a group chat. It would have been great to be able to send everyone when we were meeting for dinner without having to copy-paste to everyone. I did love that you could see the entire day’s activities and then click to add them to your schedule. Then I would get an alert on my Apple Watch about five minutes before whatever I wanted to do.
- Unlike our last cruise on Viking, the beds were great! With my wife’s hip being replaced and both my shoulders surgically repaired a good mattress was essential.
- Our stateroom was very nice, if a little small for us. If you are six foot two, the placement of the toilet leaves much to be desired, but the shower is one of the best in a standard stateroom that we have encountered—great water pressure and lots of hot water as well.
- Disembarkation was wonderful. They let us off right on time; we were through Canada Place in no time and home and starting laundry in just about three hours flat. Please compare that to the three hours and thirty minutes we stood in line in Canada Place to board the ship.
That about covers it. Of course, for us personally, the fact that we were traveling with our best cruising buddy Bob and his family, as well as taking our kids (both over 40) on their first cruise, really was the best part for us. I think that may have been a big part of our frustration—the fact that we had built up cruising so much with Michelle and her Brian, and then to have them tell us that even though they liked being with us, they didn’t think cruising was for them. And for Bob and Judy, it was their first cruise since the pandemic, and we wanted that one to be great as well. As the travel agent who booked them all (as well as having clients on Koningsdam later this summer), it was a disappointment.
The Bad Stuff
I think you know what these are, but I just want to walk through them quickly for those who have criticized me for only complaining about the Main Dining Room and, sadly, add one more.
- Embarkation. It was the worst in 35 cruises, and we cruised right after 9/11. Even in Singapore, when we had to wait three hours due to the crew doing a thorough norovirus cleaning, we were kept abridged of everything that was going on, and Azamara did the best job of getting us on board quickly.
- The things we missed out on due to the late embarkation including not being able to make Main Dining Room reservations before 8:15 pm, having lunch (the first time we have ever not had lunch on embarkation day) and getting to take the kids on a tour of the ship. By the time we got on, we only had time to unpack, check in to our muster station and get dressed before making our 5:15 Tamarind reservation.
- The long lines everywhere on board. You name it, and there was a line for it. Especially bad were the ones getting into the main dining room, but also horrible were the Dive-In, Guest Services, the Dutch Cafe and many stations in the buffet. They never went away.
- The fact that the ship was obviously understaffed. When you see the Dive-In that has always had six people prepping and serving food reduced to three, the gelato bar with one poor guy (on his first contract) or our stateroom attendants who had more than 35 staterooms to deal with, when we started cruising, you never had a stateroom attendant with more than 20.
- Staff was not allocated correctly. HAL could have fixed many of the problems with food staffing by assigning long-time crew members to work with new staff. We ran into many crew in the buffet that were on their first contract. Many had joined the ship in Australia or Hawaii within the last few weeks. On the other hand, long-time crew members who were on their sixth, seventh or more contracts and were working alongside other long-time crew in the specialty restaurants. I totally get seniority but put some of the more experienced people in with the novices to mentor them in their new jobs. One of the saddest things we saw was a person manning the buffet waffle station on disembarkation morning who could not understand why the waffles weren’t coming out of the waffle maker. He didn’t know he had to grease the waffle maker before he put the batter in. No one had told him. He had never been taught.
- The fraudulent scam that HAL pulled in Prince Rupert by buying out the only tram rides in the town and jacking up the price much higher than it would have been had you have been able to pay cash for a tour. It sounds like the entire Carnival Corp is doing this.
- And here’s the new one. Bob pointed out to me that when he met his stateroom attendant, they offered to make up his room whenever he wanted. Once a day, twice a day or not at all. For the five-day cruise—they could do whatever he wanted. This reminded me that ours had said the same thing. And we learned from Brian and Michelle that theirs had said the same thing. We opted for once a day. With all the new cruisers, it is highly possible that many, like Brian and Michelle, said not to bother at all. This seems to be a new thing—offering not to service a stateroom at all. Bob thought (and I agree), what about the $18 per person, per day gratuity we must pay? Now I realize that those gratuities go to a lot of people. For those of you who didn’t cruise in the old day, you used to tip your stateroom guy $6 a day, their assistant $4 a day, your waiter $8 a day, and their assistant $3. And the assistant maître d $2. So, if you don’t get your room cleaned and you don’t get into the dining room, where do your gratuities go? HAL’s pocket?
Things I wish I had known and what I would have done differently
I did come up with some concrete suggestions that I wish we had done ourselves.
- If HAL assigns you a time to board, ignore it. Everyone else does. Go as early as you can and get in line. They may make you wait before you can actually board, but getting through the Customs and scanners will get you to where you sit in chairs and for my bride, that would have been a godsend.
- Book fixed seating. Do not do Select Dining unless that’s all you can get especially if you need to eat early.
- If you can’t get fixed seating, as soon as you get on board, make a beeline to deck three next to the Ocean Bar, where they make dinner reservations. Reserve for the entire cruise. I think this is wrong but if HAL allows people to do it, play that game.
- If you want a hot dog, see if you can order it on the HAL app or go late (like 3:45).
- A great and empty bar is the one that is part of Tamarind on deck 10 aft.
- Book private excursions in every port. Try Tours By Locals or ask your local travel agent.
- Use the HAL Mariner app. It really isn’t bad once you figure it out. It helps if you have an iPhone and an Apple Watch to get notifications. Make sure to turn on notifications for the app on your iPhone.
So, was it a bad cruise? Yes. Did we have a terrible time? No. But that was not because of Holland America. Some of my long-time cruising friends think I should ask for a full refund. I understand where HAL and the entire Carnival Corp are at this point. Their stock is down (although coming back), and they are deeply in debt from staying alive during the pandemic. But is not the old HAL I sailed on before. After our Nieuw Statendam cruise, I came into this Koningsdam cruise with the thought that when we wanted to sail on mainstream ships, HAL was the way to go. I no longer feel that way. That makes me sad.
In deep sadness, there is no place for sentimentality.
—William S. Burroughs