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Old August 9th, 2004, 04:18 PM
Marcie Whitesel
Posts: n/a
Default Holland America Alaska Cruise-Tour

Travel Services Submitted: 7/20/2004 9:58:54 AM
Modified: 7/30/2004 10:16:52 PM

VanGuard Tours & Cruises, Holland America Line Inc. rip-off-! Poor product and customer service! Fairfax, Virginia and Seattle, Washington *UPDATE ..Vanguard address correction and Holland America address

VanGuard Tours & Cruises - Holland America Line
601 N. Fairfax St., Suite 450, Alexandria, VA 22314--Holland America Line Inc.,300 Elliott Ave. West, Seattle, WA 98119
Fairfax--Seattle, WA Virginia 22414-98119
Phone Number:

This letter serves as a follow-up to the multiple telephone conversations I have shared over the last 2 weeks with some or all of the people listed below:

Frank Barnes - VanGuard Tours
Louise Sparks - VanGuard Tours
Gay Frieary - VanGuard Tours

Paul Allen - Holland America
Ryan Oars - Holland America
Helene Hill - Holland America

Never have I been so angry, disgusted and disappointed with a trip or service. Each year for the last eight years my husband and I have enjoyed a tour experience. One year to Europe the next to Greece then to Egypt and lastly to Australia. We visit often in the US and Caribbean. I travel at least 3 times a month for business. I know what to expect when you vacation on a tour. This was not it.

In my first conversations with Louise Sparks I made it clear I wanted a special vacation. I wanted first class accommodation, a smaller more intimate ship and a tour that provided a representative to share information about the sites we were scheduled to visit. With the exception of the ship and cabin, NONE of my expectations were met on any level. We were never treated with respect or with any concern for our comfort or needs.

Since returning from this trip I have encountered several people who share my negative opinion of Holland America and VanGuard. There were people on this trip who had traveled with you before, one person, XXXX XXXX for 300 days. How have you slipped to such low customer service levels? Where is the pride in yourselves and your companies?

Each person I have spoken with at Holland America and VanGuard has asked me to do their job and document what went wrong on this trip. I have done that in the following pages. I expect compensation for the horrible experience of this vacation. I paid $10,222 and I believe I did not receive even half of the service you advertised for this trip. Please contact me as soon as possible to discuss our next step.

05/26 We arrive in Vancouver at 3:30pm and find the Holland America representatives are already gone for the day. There are long lines at the Fairmont check-in desk for cruise guests and I find out Vanguard will not have a representative with us. There is not a board in the lobby informing us of the next day's events and schedule.

05/27 All of the 200+ passengers in the Vanguard booking were instructed to be in the lobby at the same time. No other information was provided. There was not adequate seating in the small lobby of the Fairmont so we were told to go downstairs to the airport terminal. After questioning the Holland America representatives about how they were going to load up the buses they admitted they were going to load the buses alphabetically.

This logic split MANY of the families/groups attempting to travel together. Based on my conversation with the representative, Holland America knew the buses were only allowed to arrive and load one at a time so the boarding process took more than 2 hours while everyone stood waiting. To simply stagger the boarding times and assign groups to the buses ahead of time would have prevented the chaos of so many people in one place with no seating and no information.

I called the Holland America office during this wasted time and Helene Hill came to the hotel and apologized for the confusion. She could clearly see the disorganization and problems your clients were having. We discussed solutions to better cope with the large number of passengers in the group. Helene actually placed my family and me on the last bus in the front seat with an apology. I believed she understood what needed to be done and would take action to fix the obvious problems.

After touring the Butchart gardens we were dropped off in Victoria late in the afternoon about 3 blocks away from anything of interest with very little information and told to be at the museum for pick up 2 hours later. No other information was provided. This was a drop off was a waste of time. Many of the elderly were tired and did not want to walk in this shopping area and there was not an area for anyone to rest or get out of the rain.

05/28 Once again - 200+ passengers were instructed to be in the lobby at the same time. No other information concerning the trip was provided. Upon arriving in the lobby, we were given color-coded scraps of paper indicating which bus we would be riding. The bus assignment was still based on the alphabet, so if you were the last bus on the first day you would be last to leave/arrive once again. This alphabetical logic also again split MANY of the families/groups attempting to travel together. Holland America by now knew the buses were only allowed to arrive and load one at a time so the boarding process took more than 2 hours AGAIN while everyone stood and waited.

The driver wasted time driving around WAITING for his assigned arrival time at the docks. Very little information was passed on about what we were seeing. Had I known the purpose of this part of the tour was to WASTE my time so the bus could arrive at a certain time I would have slept in and taken a cab to the dock.

05/29 Great day … NO BUSES

05/30 Chaos again led the day when we left the ship. 200+ people milled about at the bus loading area. No representative in sight. Once a couple of the buses were loaded we waited and waited and waited while the driver searched for a single passenger to fill the LAST seat on our bus. This is horrible. ONE SEAT not filled kept us waiting.

06/01 Arrived Sitka, once on land we walked to the staging area for the buses to take us on a tour. Again a disaster. There were no representatives to line anyone up for the boarding of the buses and so once again it was total disorganization. None of the elderly or disabled passengers received any kind of boarding assistance unless it was from their fellow passengers. No rotation of seats. No logic in how or who went together.

06/02 No buses no problems.

06/03 No buses no problems.

06/04 One of the worst days on the tour. We were again herded into an area for the 200+ bus passengers to fight it out for a seat on one of 4 or 5 “double” buses. The pattern, as it had been for days was that we either claw/fight our way to the front of the line and knock down the elderly in order to be on the first bus and to occupy the front row seats or again be on the last bus and/or the last seat.

Always being last means I spent my vacation time waiting for Holland America to organize and always being shortchanged on time spent at the sites we came to Alaska to see, as well as the last ones to arrive at any hotel destination. The loading time was 45 minutes per bus. I asked the driver to rotate the seating on the bus or at least the loading and unloading so everyone had a chance to view the scenery.

She refused saying she was not told to do that. I understood the earlier buses were able to see the wildlife park and to take a tram for park viewing. The bus I was on (the last one) simply went to the Portage Glacier and to a sandwich place where we waited in line for an hour to buy cold sandwiches “to go” and got back on the bus. We arrived at the “staging area” in Anchorage and waited 45 minutes to unload the bus since our driver refused to open the back door to hasten the de-boarding effort.

We were told to wait with the other 200+ people at the Egan Center for the shuttle to take us to the Hilton. I spoke to a Holland America representative and asked how long we would have to wait and she was not sure. After questioning a local person I found the Hilton was 2 blocks away and decided to walk. Why not tell us we could walk if we wished to????? Our bus arrived at 3:30 – two hours after the other groups arrived and we had seen almost nothing but the back of a bus. Disgust is mild for how I felt.

We walked to the Hilton and after tracking down the Holland America desk I asked one of the reps if they would assign people to buses for the next day to avoid so many mass gatherings. She asked me if I was one of the “coach people”? I was so enraged that I she had reduced my status of client or passenger or at least human being to one of “coach person” that I could barely contain myself. You certainly are nice to me when you ask for my money. There is absolutely no respect for any of your passengers from these so-called Holland America representatives. I asked for a supervisor and was introduced to Dustin Mason. I asked him to please assign groups to buses and rotate the seating to help ease some of the tension we were feeling. He said he really couldn't do anything about the bus situation. What is he there for?

I entered my room at the Hilton only to find 1 bed for 3 people and someone else's luggage. That took over an hour to resolve and our bags arrived later on that evening. Tick Tick Tick my time is being wasted again. We were unable to see any of Fairbanks because of this lack of respect for my time and Holland America's poor organization.

06/05 EVERYONE was again told to be in the lobby at 7:15am to load the buses for the to the train station. There were not enough seats in the hotel lobby for the older or disabled people to rest in. No one announced when or where the buses would stage and we were not told that instead of wasting our time waiting for the bus we could have walked the short distance to the train station and enjoyed the fresh air and sunshine instead of smoldering in another chaotic mess with no seating. Upon arrival in Denali many of our group were herded to the front office because they had no room keys.

06/06 Time to depart for the return trip to the train station. The bus dropped us off at the wrong platform. There were a number of people needing assistance in getting to the other platform so we had to help them since the Holland America representatives were not helping. The correct platform was crowded, hot, without shade, no facilities and offered very limited seating.

Upon arriving in Fairbanks, we were met at the station by the buses. Half of our group was missing their room keys and so we spent 40 minutes trying to get everyone on the buses (even now no assignments) and calmed down. After 12 days of missteps, not having a room key was the last straw for some of us.

06/07 For some unexplained reason after a day of touring, all of our buses were called back to the hotel instead of continuing on to the scheduled salmon bake and show. We had been told we were first to go to dinner followed by the show. As we waited on the bus in front of the hotel an loud/obnoxious/rude Holland American person entered our bus and told us the show will be first so if there is anyone with diabetes they will have to go to bus A in order to eat first. He said, “That's just the way it is! If you want to eat first you must switch buses.”

We attended the show and after leaving the building found there was a long walk to the buffet dinner. There were no officials to point the way and again no assistance to any of the elderly needing help.

Our driver was 45 minutes late picking us up for our return to the hotel. Luckily for us it was only raining a little bit and the mosquitoes bit other people since we had on repellent. I arranged my own transport to the airport so I could avoid the bus again.

Glen Allen, Virginia

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Update Submitted by the original author
Submitted: 7/21/2004 9:56:24 AM Modified: 7/21/2004 11:39:42 PM

Vanguard address correction and Holland America address

VanGuard Tours & Cruises
601 N. Fairfax St., Suite 450
Alexandria, VA 22314
(703) 684-5060

Holland America Line Inc.
300 Elliott Ave. West
Seattle, WA 98119
(206) 281-3535

Marcie - Glen Allen, Virginia

Update Submitted by the original author
Submitted: 7/30/2004 1:13:54 PM Modified: 7/30/2004 6:02:41 PM

Vanguard threatens to sue me ..list in detail everything that VanGuard does not take responsibity for leaving only one thing out: charging my VISA account.

I just received the following letter via registered mail from VanGuard Tours:

We at VanGuard are very surprised and disturbed to learn of your posted complaint on Rip-Off Report.com. As a company that prides itself on customer service, we are outraged that you would attempt to publicly smear our good name, especially in light of the fact that none of your problems are a direct result of VanGuard and especially in light of our extended efforts to plead your case to Holland America.

Your complaint alleges that VanGuard in some way cheated you. However, after reviewing your detailed complaint, it is evident that your frustration has been misdirected towards VanGuard. If you review the material (literature, website and video) that you received from VanGuard, you will note that every part of the package explained to you and promised by VanGuard was in fact delivered. When we sold the program to you, we made it clear that the program was to be hosted by Holland America and not VanGuard. In fact, VanGuard never promised to have a VanGuard staff member escort you.

As a result, none of the items that you attribute to VanGuard-the buses, the lack of seats in the hotel, the poorly guided tour, the rude staff members, etc.-are attributable to VanGuard or a VanGuard staff member. Rather, each of your complaints relate to a Holland America staff member, a Holland America tour, a specific hotel, a bus or a tour organized by Holland America.

When you started experiencing problems, we wish you would have contacted us on the toll-free phone number which we provided to you and which we encourage people to call. If we had been informed of your problems, we could have attempted to immediately fix them. However, since you failed to contact us until after the trip was over, we were not given the opportunity to assist you. Since contacting VanGuard with your frustrations, we have been in contact with Holland America and used our best efforts to make sure that Holland America compensates you in any manner which they are able to. In addition, we have expressed our disappointment to Holland America, with whom we have worked closely over the years.

Because none of your frustration is directly attributable to VanGuard or a VanGuard staff member, we would appreciate your immediate retraction and removal of your posted complaint against VanGuard and the VanGuard staff. If you do not remove your complaint from Rip-Off Report.com within 48 hours of receiving this letter, we will be contacting attorneys to determine what legal means we may take in order to protect ourselves and our good name from your smear campaign.

Frank W. Barnes
xc: Barbara Stephano, Esquire

Per my original letter, many representatives were contacted DURING the trip to express my frustration. Since, as Louise told me when arranging the trip and per your letter above, VanGuard has "worked closely over the years" with Holland America I was sure that VanGuard was being made aware of my complaints as they were occuring. Maybe you don't work as closely as you think. You list in detail everything that VanGuard does not take responsibity for leaving only one thing out: charging my VISA account. This was performed superbly.

Marcie - Glen Allen, Virginia

Update Submitted by the original author
Submitted: 7/30/2004 6:40:02 AM Modified: 7/30/2004 7:21:25 PM

VanGuard's Response. we are making their top executives aware of the details of their shortcomings

Dear Marcie,

Please be assured that your recent experience with Holland America on your Alaska Cruise-Tour was not acceptable and we are making their top executives aware of the details of their shortcomings. Your report came as a shock and surprise to us. Alaska departures this year, prior to and after your departure, reported no major problems. We have dealt with Holland America Line for over 30 years and have never experienced anything like this.

The cruise-tour you pruchased was a package entirely hosted by Holland America from arrival in Vancouver through your departure in Fairbanks. As your booking agent, VanGuard has always offered this program with the greatest confidence and has not found an escort to be necessary. An escort would unnecessarily increase the cost of your trip and could not have prevented the many difficulties with the motorcoaches.

The shortcomings you experienced in the various components of Holland America's package were unusual and certainly not up to the usual high standard we have come to expect from them. As a valued customer, we will continue to give you assistance in forwarding your complaints and compensation requests to the appropriate people at Holland America Line.

Frank W. Barnes

Essentially, VanGuard takes no reponsibility other than collecting their money. I paid VanGuard NOT Holland America. The service they were willing to provide for over $10,000 was to address an envelope to Holland America, stick a 37 cent stamp on it, put a copy of my letter inside and mail it (I had already done this myself).

Marcie - Glen Allen, Virginia

Update Submitted by the original author
Submitted: 7/30/2004 8:58:10 AM Modified: 7/30/2004 10:16:52 PM

Holland America's Response

Dear Marcie,

Thank you for the letter regarding your ms Ryndam cruisetour on May 26, 2004. We truly appreciate the valuable feedback you have provided us.

On behalf of Holland America Line, we sincerely apologize for the long lines and disorganization that you experienced at some times through the tour. Please be assured that Vanguard has also been in contact with us to relay the issues that have been passed on to them with regards to the tour. Additionally, our senior management has made adjustments in our operational procedures for large groups. We realize this does not erase the frustration you and the others in the Vanguard group experienced, however, we wanted to let you know that these issues are not taken lightly and are not normal for our tours. Additionally, they are certainly not up to our high standards.

We understand that you experienced long lines. Again, we are truly sorry for the time you had to spend in these lines. We agree that there should have been a process to make this wait as short as possible so that you could relax in your free time.

We need and appreciate your constructive criticism in order to insure that we address and recify any area where our service is less than our commitment to a "Tradition of Excellence." I can assure you that your experience is being reviewed by the appropriate senior management so that we can learn from our mistakes-not repeat them, and improve our facilities and services in Alaska. Please be assured your experience was the exception and we have gone to great lengths to ensure these tours live up to Holland America Line's standards.

In an effort to show our concern, we would like to extend a Future Travel Discount to you in the amount of $600.00 total. The value of this certificate may be applied to a new reservation on any Holland America Line cruise or cruisetour, and is combinable with any other applicable discounts. The Future Travel Discount will be mailed under separate cover, and will arrive in approximately three weeks.

Beyond our sincere apology and commitment to improve, we hope to earn your trust and confidence to sail with Holland America again in the future. We want to demonstrate the level of service, which you deserve and should expect from Holland America Line.

Thanks you again for taking the time to provide us with your comments. We look forware to serving you again in the very near future.

Very Truly yours,
Debbie Hassinger
Special Advisor
Office of the Chairman

cc: Gaye D. Frieary
VP Operations
Vanguard Tours & Cruises

cc: Tiffany Bergman
Supervisor of Customer Relations
Holland America Line

$10,222, one half of my family's vacation simply horrible, and an offer for a $600 discount on future travel......ponder that one.

I want to clarify something that seems to be a theme in both written and oral responses from both VanGuard and Holland America: I purchased a "cruise-tour" for three people (my husband, my mother-in-law, and myself). I did not purchase a "cruise-tour" as three of over 200 people in what keeps being referred to as "The VanGuard Group". Although I realized we were not going to be the only three people on any given "motorcoach"(its a bus), I did not expect to have to fight my way onto one of five buses multiple times a day. As on other tours, I expected to be assigned a bus; get to know some of my fellow passengers that I would see everyday as human beings (not the animals we had been reduced to); and have seats rotated so no one would always have to sit in the back of the bus. This would have minimized the hysteria surrounding boarding. As it was, more time was spent loading and unloading buses than was spent at any given site. This leads me to the following: I also want to make it clear that the first "week" on ship was satisfactory. It was the second half of the trip on land which was a disaster. I don't know if Holland America is new to land tours or if they were expecting VanGuard to provide one tour guide per bus (there were NONE for the 200+ people/five buses). None of this should have been my problem.

Marcie - Glen Allen, Virginia
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  #2 (permalink)  
Old August 9th, 2004, 05:40 PM
Posts: n/a
Default Re: Holland America Alaska Cruise-Tour

Well, you have me scared. I am taking a cruisetour with my wife in two weeks AND our last name begins with a Z.
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  #3 (permalink)  
Old August 9th, 2004, 07:26 PM
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Default Re: Holland America Alaska Cruise-Tour

Would like to hear from the cruise board members. jlk
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  #4 (permalink)  
Old August 10th, 2004, 09:48 AM
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Default Re: Holland America Alaska Cruise-Tour

Sorry, I just realized that this post is on the H/A board and not the "ask the cruisemates staff" board.

You may want to cut and paste the post on the above mentioned board and ask the staff what they think - they may be able to zero in on who is at fault and who you should contact - many people only look at the cruise line posts for just a few, or perhaps only one cruiseline, so your post would have much more exposure there .

I took a cruise tour with Princess about 12 years ago, and it was nothing but top class (hotels, transfers, tours, the cruise, etc.). I am astonished to learn that H/A, my favorite line, was part of delivering such bad, customer unfriendly service.

I did try the web site for rip off's, and found nothing for VanGuard Holland American tours other than your post - perhaps I am doing something wrong.

Did some of the other participants have the same opinion as you and were they going to complain also?
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