Holland America's new policy allows guests to go straight to their fully ready staterooms at 11:30 a.m.
On other cruise lines, passengers normally go to the Lido restaurant after boarding, where they sit and wait for the staterooms to be ready. The better cruise lines provide a baggage check for carry-on luggage people have with them, but in general passengers must wait until 1:30 p.m. before they can enter their staterooms. Then they have to wait another one to four hours for their luggage to be delivered.
But Holland America says it will have staterooms fully ready by 11:30 a.m. - which is the earliest people are allowed to board. How did the line accomplish what other cruise lines have not been able to offer for decades? Hart Sugarman, Deputy Director of Housekeeping Operations for Holland America Line, explained it to me.
"I was challenged a year ago to find a way to make staterooms available to all the passengers when they board," Hart said. "We have always opened our ships to boarding at 11:30 a.m., but now people can walk straight to their staterooms and get comfortable, and we avoid the madness in the Lido that we used to experience."
Hart's accomplishment required a multi-level approach.
"The first thing we had to do was figure out a way for the room stewards to get rooms ready faster," he said. "So we streamlined the process in several ways. First, instead of having them do all the work, such as stripping the beds and gathering up the towels, we brought in people from other departments."
"We now have people from the laundry services come in to strip the beds and put the sheets and pillow cases into color coded bags. They drop them by the elevators, and other people come by to pick them up. Other people gather up the towels and put them into different colored bags for the same process, the same with the bathrobes. This frees up a lot of time the room stewards used to spend in each room."
"People from other departments are responsible for coming through all the rooms and emptying all the trash receptacles. They put everything into big trash bags, which are also left by the elevators. Other workers from the sanitation department come by to pick them up."
"Once the rooms are cleared of dirty linens, the room stewards come in. We now have special packets ready, pre-filled with everything a stateroom needs, all in one big sealed plastic bag which was prepared a few days in advance. The room steward opens the pack and takes out the sheets, pillow cases, towels, amenities, Kleenex boxes, soaps, shampoos, toilet paper, etc. In fact we have two different kits, K-kits and T-kits (for king-size or twin bed configurations) and we distribute them according to the ship's manifest for how the room will be laid out," Hart said.
"Of course, staterooms are not the only thing that needs to be prepared. Public rooms need to be cleaned as well. In the past, the Housekeeping Department was responsible for cleaning everything, but now we have put more housekeeping people in charge of turning over the staterooms, and we have the bartenders and waitresses pitching in to clean the lounges and other public areas. They do the vacuuming and wiping up.
"All of this means that the whole ship is ready for cruisers the minute they walk on board - there is no settling in or waiting required. Essentially, the cruise starts the minute you cross the gangway. You can go into any public room you want."
"Another advantage to having all of the rooms ready by 11:30 is that the larger luggage that passengers left on the pier for delivery to the staterooms gets delivered much earlier, as much as two hours - a real convenience for everyone and another way to make the cruise start sooner. We didn't have to change our baggage delivery process - it is faster because the other processes allow it to start sooner."
I think all of this is a great customer-centric idea. Holland America deserves a lot of credit for initiating this process. Over time, it should be a good thing for all cruise passengers, since the lines tend to copy a good idea once it is shown to work on one cruise line. I am sure you will see it on other cruise lines soon.
"How long do you think it will be before all of the other cruise lines are copying your ideas?" I asked Hart.
"Well, they have to pay a patent fee if they do," he joked. Unfortunately, you can't patent a process like this - all you can do is give it a branded name, and Holland America calls it the "Stateroom Direct Service." It is already in operation on all Holland America ships.
This means you go straight to your cabins and relax, "which is especially good for people who have been traveling overnight," Hart pointed out. "We also have the 'jacket-less' life boat drill," which means you don't have to drag your life jacket along with you.
The worst days on a cruise are the first and last ones, so all in all I think this is a great idea. Kudos to Holland America for coming up with it. The little things can make a big difference.