December 2013 - Amsterdam to Panama Canal, Central America
What a shame. After a combined 320 nights on Holland America Lines (HAL), this middle class family who has earned Three-Star Mariner Society status is done with this cruise line. For the record, we are professionals in our early 50s, and our daughters are 16 and 12, all well-respected by adults and peers. We are the kind of family you would appreciate meeting on a cruise.
Here is our story: Over the past eight years, we have seen a noticeable decline in the way Holland America Lines (HAL) has services our young family. When we first decided to travel HAP, we knew it was skewed to older travelers, with less young families traveling. But we thought that there was some comfort traveling with a cruise line who serves older travelers. We justified to ourselves that this was going to be a more upscale experience; that there would be less riff-raff. A better total family experience. What we have seen over this time is the erosion of services to young families. Small and important things, like taking PB&J off the room service menu entirely. Pizza which was once served in Lido dining and room service has been relegated to outside near the pool, cold, and unmanaged. It even seems like there are flies hanging out at the Pizza. But that is more image than reality. The entertainment, activities, movies, and media center largely ignore the interest of young families. A good part of the media offering is “old and inappropriate for kids. I have tried in a productive and collaborative way to get help with small things on and off the ship. I tried my best, and I can be effective at getting help. Ultimately, Holland America Lines (HAL) does not care. And for good reason – they don’t just cater to seniors, but to the elderly. Big different, w learned, in behavior. By elderly, we are talking about travelers in their 70s and 80s and 90s (we and a number of 90 year olds) who forgot to enjoy the company of young families and who find themselves treating younger passengers with bitter jealousy. I haven’t seen this many walkers and carts – ever. Not even in a skilled nursing environment (we own a couple of these buildings). There is nothing wrong with the elderly and travel. But a cruise line can only serve well one or two demographics. So the lack of amenities and services for young families, and the sometimes unwelcome disposition of the elderly passengers, say to us that after 320 family nights – we are done with Holland America Lines (HAL). More suitable cruise lines in the future will be Royal Caribbean, and Celebrity. So how did we get to 320 nights before we learned this lesson? Well, the 320 is a little overstated. Divided by four family members, this is really over 80 nights each family member. Still a great amount of travel. But these experiences and observations have taken hold very quickly over this time. The dramatic change in menu and entertainment gets to the point where Holland America Lines (HAL) is happy to take the money from young families, but is unwilling to serve them.
During this last trip (17 nights through the Panama – the elderly will camp out all night to grab all the chairs on the deck for Panama Day – and they won’t let them go! God bless them and their single-mindedness.), loyalty to Holland America Lines (HAL) has its disadvantages: Like good customers, we booked early. I found out a few weeks before our cruise date that our same cabins were selling for thousands of dollars less. Thousands! I tried very hard, working each step of the way in advance, throughout, and even after the trip, to get some type of parity for our hard-earned travel dollar. Any type of parity. Anything! Even something as soft dollar as an upgrade the cabin to get us the value for the cruise. I have documentation of this if you chose to request it from me, with the caveat that although I tried hard, I am sharing our own experience and hope that yours will be different and better (but I bet not!). But Holland America Lines (HAL) refused to support our request and right-size that experience.
Finally, HAL double charges us on an excursion. I pre-paid on my credit card before the trip, and then again they charged me (unbeknownst to me) on the cabin folio. I have written proof of this, which I have shared three times now. You think this would be easy to fix. It has taken a lot of work, but they are not listening to the facts and as a result I have to dispute the charge with the credit card company rather than get HAL to issue a proper credit. This is not deliberate I think. This is just sloppy servicing. Lesson: Do not prepay your excursion unless you want to take on the risk of being double charged and the time and hassle of clearing this up!
Once again younger families, please do not make the same mistake we did thinking that older cruisers night be better. Older means much older than you imagine. And it means that given the choice to maximize their services to a target customer base, Holland America Lines (HAL) will underserve your young family! I am exhausted with my experience with HAL. And am hanging up our Mariner Society stars. Young families with hard-earned vacation dollars, consider yourself advised!
Signed, the forgotten Holland America Traveler
Bonus: Feedback on Cabins 3302- and 3304 (3rd deck of Amsterdam)
Heads up - this floor plan is not disclosed as obstructed – everyone on the ship can see in your room. This is worse than an obstructed room. This lower promenade deck is the walking track for the ship. So people are always (ALWAYS) walking by, and sometimes looking in. So essentially to have privacy, you ALWAYS have to have your drapes closed. It is like being in an interior room. The service desk will flat out lie and say that people cannot see in due to window tint. This is not true. Day or night (especially night when you have a cabin light on), passer-byers can see in. Holland America should be fair and disclosure this issue on their reservation description. Again, this entire deck is really not about an ocean view. It is essentially an inside cabin.