We are in Hong Kong to join another cruise. This is a thirty five day cruise from Hong Kong to Vancouver stopping in China, South Korea, Japan and Alaska .
This time we are sailing with Holland America on their mid size ship, the Volendam.
Many of you like to know my impressions of different cruise ships and cruise lines, and I am happy to oblige. But before I do I would like to address the readers I have who are fans of Holland America. If you are one of those fans, please don’t write to me with tales of your wonderful experiences on this cruise line. That will only make me feel worse. Instead just ignore the rest of this blog.
I readily admit that three weeks on Crystal Cruises is not a good lead in to 5 weeks on Holland America. Holland America does not pretend to compete with Crystal, and positions itself as a much more affordable cruise line.
But that having been said, this cruise was certainly not inexpensive and by the time we have paid for all the extras that Holland America hit us with the price difference is not that startling. However the difference in the ship, the food and the service is. Do they really need to charge us $3.25 for a large bottle of water, while virtually every hotel in Asia, however inexpensive offers two bottles of water free per night. And then to add insult to injury, Holland America tacks on a 15% service charge to that $3.25. What service is involved in us picking up a bottle of water?
The Volendam holds 1400 passengers, most of them crammed into small cabins, many without windows, just a few feet above the water line on the first, and second decks. On other cruise ships, these decks are usually reserved for ship staff. This begs the question of where the crew are actually housed on this ship. Are there decks called -1 and -2 ?
These cabins are available at a very affordable price and I would be the first to admit that if you chose one of these cabins then the cruise, the food and the services are a great deal. But, Dear Readers, it will come as no surprise to you to learn that I am not on Deck 1 or Deck 2. We are on Deck 7, which on this ship is the highest deck that has cabins. We have what Holland America calls a Vista Suite. It is a comparatively spacious 300 sq feet with a large balcony and it must be said is very comfortable. But that comfort comes at a considerable cost, about double that of the cheapest cabin. So Holland America might bill itself as an affordable cruise line, but when it bills us it is anything but. Which is why, at the prices we are paying, I am very disappointed in the overall experience.
The ship was launched in 1999 and dedicated by Chris Evert. Now it must be said that I am a tennis fan and a huge fan of Chris Evert. But it does sound as if they were scraping the barrel here. How many people refused the job before they ended up knocking at her front door? And have you seen the way she dresses? If you watch the tennis channel you will know that her dress style is unflattering, old fashioned and rather colourful in a hideous sort of way. They must have offered her the job of decorating the interior of the ship. The Volendam is dressed primarily in orange and blue with dark brown accents and a lot of brass. It looks just like her. Or like a 1980’s motel.
The corridors are unrelenting in their drabness. Long and narrow with lighting that would make a hospital proud, the orange carpet is kept spotlessly clean while the cream and brown walls suffer somewhat from scuff marks.
Wherever a color can be added to this scheme it is of course purple. Holland America advertises the ship as having “a beautiful garden theme reflected in an artful floral motif”. Such motifs appear periodically along the corridors but do little to suggest a garden, yet alone art.
There is not a hint of the garden in our suite, or indeed of colour in any form. Everything is some shade of brown . The sofa is dark brown as indeed is the hot water when it first comes out of the faucet. It is so alarming that I reported it to the front desk who told me they were aware of the problem and were working on it. Four days later there is no improvement and they are still working on it. When I empty the bathtub it leaves a brown stain on the white enamel. I thought I was getting a nice tan, but it may not be the sun that is causing it.
It is actually a whirlpool bath which sounds lovely unless you are in the cabin underneath, where it probably sounds like a jet engine rumbling down a runway. I know that Americans do not usually enjoy baths but after a long day walking round town there is nothing like a good long soak. But sadly this is nothing like a good long soak. The bath is so small that only half of me can be soaked at a time. In order to fit in the bath it is necessary to bend my body in the middle at 90 degrees, something that it is always reluctant to do. Then either my legs are soaking in the hot bath and my body is sat bolt upright getting colder by the minute, or my body is under the water and my legs are stretched vertically up the wall at the end of the bath, like some cheap whore in an even cheaper hotel (not that I know what either of those actually looks like).
The only real highlight of our cabin is the two delightful men from Indonesia who keep it clean and tidy. They look as if they have been plucked from the back streets of Jakarta which may explain why they are so cheerful. Unbelievably they have thirty cabins they have to clean each day and “refresh” each evening. Each cabin of course has a bathroom with toilet. A toilet that is used by two people who spend their days drinking and eating copious amounts of food from a never ending buffet. It must be a daunting and often unpleasant workload, but they approach it (and us) with amazing good grace and humour. Nothing is too much trouble and everything is done with a smile. They brighten our day.
Indonesia has an estimated population of 255 million, or it did before Holland America lured many of them away with a promise of a good job and a chance to see the world. It seems that half the crew on board the Volendam is Indonesian and the other half is Filipino. Some of them seem delighted with the opportunity they have been given, while others appear worn down. It is no secret that the contracts offered to workers by the cruise ships can be for up to 16 hour work days, without a day off for 6 to 10 months. And yet it is always the staff that makes the cruise. They are a delight, cheerful and always ready to laugh. They greet you with a smile and ask you how your day is going. But on the Volendam smiles seem harder to come by. Some of them seem to react as I would when faced with 1400 clamoring customers and 16 hour work days. That is not a good thing.
Then there is the food, always the most important thing on board and often the main criteria by which a cruise line is judged. This sentence was followed by a fairly damning critique of both the buffet and the dining room. But Gordon felt I was being unduly harsh. He is, as you know a much nicer person than I, and I will therefore listen to him, as I always do, and refrain from making those comments. Instead I will reserve any judgment for a later date, and update you if things have improved. But I feel a glowing endorsement of the culinary delights on board is unlikely.
While the food may be important it is always the itinerary that tempts us most, and this itinerary promises to be great. We have 7 stops in Japan and two in Korea and both are countries we have not visited. And to start things off we have two days in Shanghai, truly one of the world’s great cities. We have been there before.
We can’t wait to return