April 2015 - Westerdam to Panama Canal, Central America
PROS: 1. The dining staff and cabin staff are wonderful and will do anything to help you. Cheerful and sincere. 2. There are few lines for anything, even with a relatively full ship. 3. Embarkation and disembarkation at all ports is handled very well and, again, almost no waiting. 4. There are many venues on board for your amusement, from good classical music to games to culinary shows to bad art for sale to overpriced jewelry to good computer stations and a small library, lots of different style bars, a small casino and a variety of restaurants. There is a wide variety of music and there are a variety of shows; not everyone will like every show but everyone will like some of them. 5. There are free daily newspaper summaries at the front desk for several countries and you can read the NYTimes for free on wifi. 6. Alcoholic drinks are reasonably priced. 7. Great lecturer on board. 8. Very interesting "navigation updates' almost daily by members of the bridge. 9. Captain was very informative on the progress of the ship.10. The menu at the Vista dining room changes daily but the menus bear no relation to the ports visited.
CONS: 1. EVERYTHING costs extra. You have to pay for bottled water. You have to pay for soft drinks. You have to pay for lattes and espressos which are not even available in some of the dining areas. You have to pay outrageous amounts for internet service. I have no problem paying for alcohol, wine and beer, but water???? Please!! Coffee???? Please!! 2. All day, every day, there are efforts to sell you things: art, jewelry, spa services, drink specials, more excursions, photos, videos, etc., etc. It gets tiresome. 3. There is a 'SERVICE CHARGE' added to your bill every day. Holland America says this is instead of tips. Tips, excuse me, are voluntary and personal for special service. Holland America says you can remove this from your bill but then they work to make you feel guilty. They are not paying their staff and the 'service charge' doesn't just go to your waiters and cabin attendants; it goes to the people who clean the ship, the people who do the laundry and all the invisible others who should be paid by the cruise line. If you delete the 'service charge,' these poor people are then getting shafted. In other words, you are being charged a fare to go on the cruise and then you are being charged $10-12 per day per person more to pay their basic employees. This is like going to a department store and buying a shirt for $30 and then being told it really costs $35 because the $5 extra is a 'service charge' to compensate the people who put the shirt on the shelf and the people who clean the store at night. This is not right and needs to be changed to eliminate the appearance of deceptive pricing. 4, The shore excursions are generally quite good but they are not all good so read the reviews before signing up. 5. The food is good but not excellent; the baked goods (bread, rolls, desserts) are just barely passable, no better than Denny's; the meats and fish are excellent and the service is outstanding. The wine packages are actually a good deal and the wines available are consistently very nice. The specialty restaurants, Pinnacle Grill and Canaletto, are nothing special at all and not worth extra money. The big deal special restaurant -- once a cruise -- Le Cirque, is also just fine but not worth any extra money; the food in these restaurants are the quality that all the meals should reach. [But the specialty restaurants still had the same bad baked goods!]
All in all a very good cruise but there is no question that all day every day, Holland America is counting the money it can bring in over your fare. The low point is selling you water bottles as you leave the ship to go on excursions when it is over 100 degrees outside! This is our 4th cruise and the only time we have felt like we have been so pushed to spend money every time we turned around. We will likely be moving to other cruise lines to avoid the sense of being more like profit centers than guests.