I must truly say that Holland America knows how to do it right. My first cruise on HAL was the week of March 16, 2001 and was my sixth cruise overall. I have been on Cunard, Royal Carribean (in the 70's when they were "it"), Carnival (only once - never again) and NCL.Embarkation was a snap - representatives met me at my gate, whisked me to the bus to port, took me to the HAL terminal, checked in in less than 5 minutes (including the security check) and was escorted to my cabin (including taking my carry on bags so I didn't have to carry them). During being escorted to my cabin, the bellhop pointed out the items of note between the gangway and my cabin.The entertainment was certainly better than most cruise lines with the occasional sub par performer. Overall quite good.The service was certainly better than any cruise I had taken before, including Royal Carribean in their hayday. This is first cruise I have been on where I saw the head waiter for my dining room table more than three times (and the 3 times was on a 14 day cruise on RCCL). The head waiter for our table was at the table at least 4 times every evening and 3 times per meal at breakfast. He prepared flaming deserts every night (except the last night of the cruise)and obviously enjoys what he does a great deal. He has been with HAL for 16 years. The waiter, busboy and wine steward were also excellent. Considering that Carnival has already eliminated wine stewards and Royal Carribean is also, Holland America should keep the wine stewards as a part of their service staff - it adds quite a bit to the level of service in the dining room. The Lido Restaurant (where the buffet meals are served) is a step or two above the quality of the best buffets on the other cruises I have taken. Even the cheeseburgers by the pool were top notch and a number of people even commented about the french fries being the best they have ever had (always fresh and hot, served just-drained from the fryer).The cabin steward was excellent, always making sure that the room was properly serviced without being intrusive.My next cruise will be on Holland America for sure. Why mess around with less? I met a travel agent on board that works for a cruise only agency and she indicated that Crystal Cruises was better then HAL - but she couldn't put her finger on what was really that different and said she could never justify the price difference between HAL and Crystal to herself or to a client. She also felt that HAL was a step or two above RCCL, Princess and easily on a par with Celebrity if not slightly better.A most satisfying experience and a wonderful vacation.
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