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Copyright © 1995-2004 
Linda Coffman


Golden Princess & Volendam
Back-to-Back Comparison

November 22 through December 11, 2003
Eastern & Southern Caribbean Itineraries

by Jean and Ralph Walker

We are Australian, married, a “Baby boomer” couple still working. We traveled with 2 very good friends, also from Australia. Our occupations are Manager of a Travel College, Registered Nurse and our friends are Managers of General Stores in the Australian outback. This was their first cruise and the fourth in total for us.

We stayed at The Holiday Inn Express prior to the cruise and between cruises. This hotel is well located about 5 minutes by taxi from the Princess Terminal. It is a comfortable “no frills” hotel reasonably priced.

We took a taxi to the ships, as the Shuttle bus at times was unavailable or booked out. The taxi ride was about USD 5.00 per person.

We will talk in this report about the cruising experience on the two ships, as much has been written about the ports of call in other reviews.

P & O Golden Princess 7 night Eastern Caribbean itinerary
Inside Cabin B316 Baja Deck 11

22 November 2003 Departure from Fort Lauderdale
23 November At sea
24 November At sea
25 November St Maarten
26 November St Thomas
27 November At sea
28 November Princess Cays
29 November Arrival Fort Lauderdale

Holland America Line Volendam 10 night Southern Caribbean cruise
Outside Cabin D2599 on D Deck

01 December 2003 Departure from Fort Lauderdale
02 December At sea
03 December At sea
04 December Willlemstad Curacao
05 December Isla Margarita Venezuela
06 December Port of Spain Trinidad
07 December Fort de France Martinique
08 December St Thomas
09 December At sea
10 December Half Moon Cay
11 December Arrival Fort Lauderdale

Golden Princess reviewThe Golden Princess cruise

In June 2002 we undertook a cruise from Barcelona to Venice on the Golden Princess and were so impressed that we booked again on the same ship for the above Caribbean cruise. We had exactly the same cabin, B316 an inside on Baja deck 11.

Positive Comments
The design of the inside cabin made good use of mirrors to enhance the feeling of light and maximize space. The open space wardrobes without doors provided plenty of hanging and storage space for our requirements. The self-service laundries were spacious with plenty of washing machines, dryers and ironing facilities. Change machines and laundry powder dispensers were available in each laundry. Cost of laundry – USD $1.00 per wash and 0.50 per drier.

The service in the “Go as you please” dining rooms was excellent on all occasions. We tried these restaurants at breakfast, lunch and dinner. During the evening, if there was a wait for a table, we were given a paging device and we had a drink in one of the bars until it activated. We found this very civilized.

The two “Ozzie” men having hearty appetites, had 2 entrées at some dinners. This was not a problem for the waiting staff or kitchens and the second entrée was supplied cheerfully and graciously. Exactly the same thing happened on a few occasions with extra desserts being requested.

The Horizon court buffet self service operates 24 hours a day and was also very popular, particularly before and after shore excursions. The availability of any type of cooked egg including boiled eggs for breakfast in the main dining room was great.

Sabatinis Restaurant, where a surcharge was paid, was good. The Italian food was excellent and well presented. The service was a little slow, possibly due to the staff stopping to sing congratulations to most of the customers who were celebrating birthdays and anniversaries, etc.

A master class wine tasting was also very well done, held in Sabatinis during an afternoon when we were at sea. The Head Waiter was extremely knowledgeable about the wines presented.

The coke card, purchased for USD $22.50 per person enabled us to get as many club sodas or cokes as we wanted. We found this very good value, particularly when we came back hot and thirsty from the tours.

We were the only four “Ozzies” on board and must have made a lot of noise or had distinctive accents as quite a few people commented, “you must be one of the “Ozzies.”

The wine list in the restaurant is a great improvement on our last Princess cruise with much greater variety and well priced.

The Skywalkers lounge is a great place to relax during the day a very quiet spot with a great view.

Afternoon tea is served in one of the dining rooms at 3.30pm by white gloved waiters worth “putting on the Ritz.”

The cooking demonstration and tour of the galleys is great. The Golden Princess was also promoting its cookbook, personally signed by the Head Chef. Our mate Gary, who is also a very good cook himself, bought one and was impressed with its photographs and recipes.

The service aboard Golden Princess was exemplary. Toiletries were replaced in our cabin without asking. The dining and drink waiters didn’t miss a beat. These staff came from all parts of the world such as Eastern Europe and South East Asia and spoke excellent English, even understanding our Aussie accents!

Captain Bernard Warner stated, “This is a happy ship.” How right he was. He and his officers were highly visible in all areas of the ship – managing by walking around and ensuring the passenger’s needs were met. Nothing was too much trouble.

Negative comments
The decking or wooden veneer on the Promenade deck was very slippery when wet for people walking and running for exercise.

The main evening show “Lights, Camera and Action” we had seen 18 months previously on the Mediterranean cruise. Perhaps they could change the shows every 12 months or so. The comedians were also not very funny in comparison to our previous cruise.

I think that ice creams and Cappuccino should be included in the cruise fare, rather than as an added expense.

We were confused when we arrived at the Princess Cruise terminal at Fort Lauderdale. After getting out of our taxi we were not sure if we had to take our luggage to the check in counter ourselves as was done on our Europe cruise. Eventually a porter told us to leave our bags behind and they would fix things up. It was a little confusing and we suggest that a large sign be placed telling people to leave their bags with the porters and that bags do not have to be taken into the terminal building. I think more Princess staff should be outside the Terminal building assisting with “meet and greet” as first impressions that people make are important.

Volendam reviewThe Volendam cruise

Positive comments
Very good wooden decks give a good grip on the walking deck and jogging track. On the Volendam joggers must jog around the sports deck. They are not allowed to jog around the Promenade deck.

Very good “Las Vegas” style shows with high quality dancing. Our hearts were in our mouths however when the poor female dancers on several occasions nearly lost their balance as they were performing on a revolving platform on a ship that was sailing in rough seas.

The appearance on the ship of an excellent steel band called “Caribbean Magic” whilst we were docked in Port of Spain Trinidad was a highlight of our visit to this Port.

A lockable drawer, as well as a safe in our cabin provided secure places for cameras, video equipment, etc.

The shipboard accounts gave an accurate listing of expenses and shipboard purchases.

The cabin gave privacy by means of a curtain across the passage leading to the door of the cabin, blocking off light from the main corridor at night.

Three handrails in the bath and a non-slip bath mat were good safety features.

The sandwich and ice cream bars available in the Lido buffet were of a high standard, with cheerful staff working hard to oblige the passengers.

The cooking demonstration and tour of the galleys was entertaining and well presented.

Dutch high tea was elegant and delicious.

The Marco Polo restaurant, where an additional fee was charged, was a culinary highlight for us. Utterly professional and gorgeous food and wine.

The Captains cocktail party was good fun with generous serves of drinks. It was great to see public acknowledgment of excellent crew service by the Captain at this event.

The midnight dessert extravaganza was a visual and culinary feast.

The Java Coffee shop provided excellent complimentary coffee and cookies during the day and was well patronized. Having take-away popcorn for patrons of the cinema was a nice touch.

Hot appetizers were served prior to dinner in the Crows Nest lounge and this was much appreciated. The Crows Nest bar had the most beautiful views at the front of the ship with very comfortable recliners and foot stools to take a nap in. Judging by the snores from some of the chairs, other people enjoyed them as well.

Jean loves kippers for breakfast. These were available most days in the sit-down dining restaurant – Rotterdam.

The Captains cocktail party provided multiple photo opportunities. We had several formal photos taken which were of very high quality. The organization of the portraits was more streamlined than Princess, without long lines forming for different photo backgrounds.

The embarkation and disembarkation were well organized, with staff members positioned at various points to get people through with a minimum of fuss.

There was a very good updated map of the ship’s current position on the level 5 deck.

Passengers were able to remain in their rooms until their departure time was called, rather than waiting in a lounge area, as we had to do on Princess.

Negative comments
The safe in the room required a credit card to access it, thus requiring us to wear neck pouches continuously on board for our ship card and credit card.

No photo I.D. in the computer meant carrying photo I.D. such as passport or drivers license when entering and exiting the ship.

Very little space was available on the bathroom vanity unit for toiletries (poor design).

The wardrobes had doors, rather than open space, opening into the area opposite the bathroom, causing congestion.

A fridge was not available in the room, although an ice bucket was provided.

There wasn’t a light stand on the bedside cabinets but a light was positioned above the bed. The design of the light switches over the bed made the controls difficult to find at night.

Our cabin steward was friendly and helpful but forgot a few times to renew soap, shampoo, etc. We left a reminder note on the bed for him and this was always attended to promptly.

The toilets had an unfortunate habit of not flushing in port. Was this a design fault? We encountered a few distressed passengers like ourselves, searching for a public bathroom when this occurred.

On at least two occasions, we noticed a very strong odor in the cabin and corridors like a strong blue vein cheese smell, which was most unpleasant. Other passengers also commented on this.

The self-serve laundry seems designed to get passengers NOT to use it, instead encouraging use of the expensive ships laundry service. A change machine was unavailable, instead passengers had to go to the Purser’s desk for change. The washing machines were half the size of those on the Golden Princess - for the same amount of money. The one iron and ironing board were designed for right-handed people - running along the wall instead of 90 degrees to it. The iron would not turn fully to the cool setting, making it difficult to iron delicate fabrics without “catching.”

There are 3 dress codes instead of 2 for dinner. Formal, Informal and Casual. We feel 2 dress codes of Formal and Casual are enough, otherwise the men need to have a dinner suit for Formal as well as a Jacket and tie for Informal. This makes it a little difficult for people traveling a long distance or people who are away for a long time on their holiday and who want to travel as lightly as possible like us on this trip. We were away in total for about 5 weeks.

Dining room service was inconsistent. Our second sitting evening dining staff were good, although overworked and distracted at times. The wine waiter had a great sense of humor and was a lot of fun.

The breakfast staff in the main sit-down dining area were sometimes taciturn and argumentative with food mix-ups occurring regularly. It seemed as if they were lacking sleep and possibly had communication difficulties with the English language. (Maybe it was our Ozzie accent.)

Jean was also seated at one breakfast sitting in the Rotterdam dining room with a charming elderly couple from Florida. The waiter was brusque and abrupt with them and they became confused about their breakfast order. He left the plates of food on the table when they stated they had not ordered it, embarrassing them. Jean reassured them that the waiters often mixed up breakfast orders and not to worry about it. Jean works in an aged care environment and realizes the importance of speaking clearly and slowly to enhance communication and preserving the dignity of older persons.

Many of the passengers on this cruise were elderly and some were frail as well. It would be a good idea to train the crew in the special requirements of this group as becoming impatient and bustling them makes communication much more difficult.

Why is it not possible to have eggs on the menu for breakfast other than fried in the main dining room? This happened on at least two occasions.

The restricted dining hours in the Lido buffet caused long lines to form for meals, particularly during breakfast. Waits of 10-15 minutes were common. It would be a better idea to have 24 hour buffet service as on Princess. Or at least extend the breakfast hours.

Staff serving up hot food at the breakfast buffet limited the amount of food offered. Heaven help the passengers who forgot something once they had passed through the line. Jean found the easiest way to get tomato juice for breakfast was to order it on room service. This was very well done by our room steward.

On the formal nights “special” food was not served until the last of 3 formal dinners, e.g. Lobster, caviar, and escargot. This differs from Princess, who “rewarded” passengers for attending formal nights with Lobster, Tom Turkey, Pheasant, etc. on each formal night.

We wondered, being a 10 night cruise, if the kitchens were starting to run out of various menu items as the cruise progressed. Towards the end of the cruise, 2 of us ordered oysters as a starter for dinner. Two oysters were served for each portion.

The bar staff were also inconsistent. During the day the passengers needed to go to the Crows Nest bar for service, rather than staff circulating around the lounge for orders. Service was much better during the evening. On one afternoon Jean enquired at the bar if it was open. The surly reply was “I just served you a glass of water didn’t I?” This type of lippy sarcastic comment reveals that the male serving staff require further training in customer relations. The expression “The customer is always right” springs to mind.

We do not believe we are hard to please passengers, being easy going Ozzies. Other passengers asked us our opinion of the service staff and agreed with the inconsistency as well.

Conclusion

For our type of cruising, we think Princess has the right formula for today’s cruising market.

The four Ozzies agreed that the modern approach to buffet and dining service shown on Princess is the way of the future.

We have all booked on future Princess voyages for later in the year

Princess - well done - keeping up the high standard will encourage us baby boomers to continue cruising with you. The motto “Back where we belong” says it all for us.

Holland America has some corrective work to do to fix the problems outlined by us above, particularly in the service area. More of a “Nothing is too much trouble” approach is what is required to meet the present passenger expectations.


More Holland America Line Reviews

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