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Jiminy November 21st, 2008 04:00 PM

Zuiderdam Dining Room Disappointment
It has been 14 years since we last sailed on Holland America. It was a wonderful experience and we expected nothing less when we booked our southern Caribbean/Panama Canal cruise on the Zuiderdam for Nov 9-19 of this year. Despite a delayed embarkation due to the Norovirus, our spirits were high for a great voyage. Our first hint of problems came when we had lunch in the dining room our first day at sea. No lie, it took 2 full hours to finish our meal. For dinner we signed up for open seating. Our Holland America rep had told us this was something new, and because we enjoyed meeting many new people, she thought we’d like the variety and flexibility. Our first two nights were a disaster. Our meals again took 2+ hours, there did not seem to be enough assistant waiters to even keep our water and iced tea glasses filled, and we constantly had to ask for things. No one ever came by to scrape the crumbs from the table before dessert (just one of those small things you notice), and our used plates often sat for 30 minutes between courses. At the end of our second night we spoke with a white uniformed dining officer, and he set us up for a set table and a set time for the following nights……the service was no better! By night 5 we had enough, but were fortunate to meet up with 2 couples who ate at 8 every night and found a fantastic waiter (Afton). We joined them for the last 5 nights and received excellent service!

We were somewhat appeased after the 5th night, but the Mariner’s brunch on our last day at sea was the last straw. We were served dessert, and then basically deserted by our waiter. We were not offered tea or coffee, and we never received our petit fours at the end. After waiting about 15 minutes, we summoned another waiter who notified an officer, then our waiter came back to offer coffee, but never the petit fours, which were sitting at the serving station. We left the dining room feeling very dejected, thinking “This brunch was for Holland America ALUMNI, and we were treated like this?”

We have never in our many cruises EVER considered tipping less than the recommended rate….because we never received less than excellent service. Unfortunately, Holland America did not even come close to living up to its motto: “A Signature of Excellence”, and we felt it important to make a statement. We deducted 35% from the hotel service charge. Hopefully someone will take notice.

I do not know what the problem was, but we were never offered any explanations. If they were short on staff because of illness or vacation time, they could have told us and maybe we would have understood. The overall morale of the crew was not what we have seen on other ships. The only dining staff member who stood out above the rest was “Hunky Dory,” and if you have been on the Zuiderdam, you know he asks your name and then remembers it for the rest of the cruise.

I will be curious to know if others have had these experiences on the Zuiderdam recently. If so, I think it is important for Holland America to know. I will be contacting my cruise consultant to let her know.

Just to end on a happy note, the quality of the food was great, the entertainment top notch, our canopy zip line adventure in Costa Rica was
outstanding, and the ship's captain was informative and humorous, even when the fire alarms went off at 3 am for a real fire in the engine room.

Jiminy November 21st, 2008 07:34 PM


Thank you for your email to Holland America Line Guest Relations.

We are committed to providing our guests with the highest level of service, and appreciate the effort it takes to write to us. Please be assured that we respond to all inquiries and correspondence in the order they are received. In order to give you the highest level of service, it is usually necessary to thoroughly research and investigate your concerns prior to responding, and we appreciate your patience with our process.

Thank you again for your correspondence. You will be hearing from us soon.

Kind regards,

Office of the President

Holland America Line

Trip November 24th, 2008 07:47 PM

In 2005, we had issues on the Zuiderdam, in the dining room, as well. We sailed with friends who were devotees of HAL..My first cruise with them was wonderful, so we were all surprised by the poor service in the dr, especially my friends.

Aside from the service, the food in the dr was mediocre, but the one night in the Pinnacle was devine. We had no other issues with anything on the ship, and I thought it was beautiful...

It will be interesting to see what they have to say when you hear back. Please share:)

Howard White November 25th, 2008 05:06 PM

Amen! We were on the Zuiderdam the cruise before this -- the transatlantic under code red most of the time. We experienced many of the same service issues -- 2 1/2-hour dinners, cold food, inattentive service both in the Dining Room and the PG. Like you we spoke to an Asst Dining Room Manager -- a guy in a white coat -- unfortunately we didn't get any meaningful response. HAL appears to be cutting down on non-revenue passenger service personnel to cut costs. The service was so bad my wife will not sail HAL again if we are ever assigned to open seating again. That's saying something since we have 125 days on HAL.

Oldsalt November 25th, 2008 06:35 PM

Sorry to hear about your problems with HAL, I have always held HAL in high regard and have never had a thought of sailing with another cruise line, lets hope this was one of a kind and they will make it up to you.

Taz November 26th, 2008 12:41 AM

We had the early dining time and had no problems at all, we were very pleased with every meal. We did witness and hear horror stories of people that had the open seating though. I would recommend to anyone booking, take the assigned dining until they (HAL) figure it out :-?

kryos December 2nd, 2008 07:34 AM

I don't know what is causing the long delays with meal service in the dining room, but I can tell you that it's a fleet-wide problem. I was on the Veendam back in 2007 and some of our meals were taking close to three hours. I thought it was because we were seated at a large table, where some people ordered from every course offered, while others only ordered from a few. Of course, we had to wait while others got through their courses before we would be served our entrees. Everyone at the table is kept on the same course at the same time.

However, I was on the Statendam this past September/October and noticed some of the same problem there ... and I experienced it in both fixed and "As You Wish" flexible dining. Even when we got a table for two, there were often delays before the entree was served. It would seem that the pre-entree courses came in pretty rapid succession, but then there would be a "lull" before the entree was served. I have no idea why. It did not seem to be a problem with the servers. They seemed plentiful and ready and willing to serve the next course. I think the problem is occurring in the galley. Maybe not enough cooks on duty? Maybe some sort of bottleneck?

Regardless, I agree with you. No meal should take in excess of two hours. I do know that some people enjoy lingering over a meal, but I think there are also plenty who would like to eat and then go on to do other things with their evening. We got to the point where if we had anything special we wanted to do that evening, like see a show or meet friends in one of the lounges, we would automatically opt to eat in the Lido. It was the only way we could have any degree of control over how long the meal would take.

I've almost become a Lido fanatic after this last cruise of 35 days. I just found that dinner there was much more pleasant than it was in the dining room, and service almost as attentive. You just go through the "buffet" line once ... get everything except your main course ... and then in most cases, that main course is delivered by a steward to your table. The room is set up nicely for dinner ... with white tablecloths and flickering candles on the tables. Stewards are available to get you beverage refills and the selection and quality of the food is pretty much the same as what you would be getting in the dining room that night anyway.

My advice would be to only go to the dining room when you have all the time in the world that evening and maybe just want to enjoy a leisurely meal at a slow pace. Otherwise, make the Lido your venue of choice. You'll enjoy your dinners much more that way.

Blue skies ...


twodogmom December 16th, 2008 08:29 AM

I was on two 10 day HAL cruises this past year. I found the food to be pretty tasteless. On the second ship it was a little better. I thought it wasn't possible to get beef rare on a cruise. I just got back from a carnival cruise, the food to say the least was fantastic, the service was excellent I was able to get my steak & prime rib rare. The deserts were fantastic, and tasted like deserts. We ate in the dinning room every night and were finished in an hour +/_.

I am scheduled for a 27 day cruise on HAL leaving Jan 10, if the food is the same as the previous cruises it will be my last for a while. I much prefer HAL, but something has to be done about there food. I really like every thing else about HAL, but there food. Lets hope they get there act together. I would hate to switch to another line.

hombre December 16th, 2008 08:40 AM

i'll admit i can't speak for food on the zdam, but on my very recent cruise on the maasdam, the food was superb in the dining room as was the service. a friend just returned from the veendam and reported the same. maybe just the logistics of open dining, i don't know. but i surely didn't experience these problems.

kryos December 18th, 2008 10:26 AM


Originally Posted by Taz
We had the early dining time and had no problems at all, we were very pleased with every meal. We did witness and hear horror stories of people that had the open seating though. I would recommend to anyone booking, take the assigned dining until they (HAL) figure it out :-?

Now my experiences, albeit on a different ship -- the Statendam -- were different. I found that the service in the dining room, especially if you had a table for two in As You Wish, was far better than in traditional dining.

Sadly, HAL is having to make do with less these days, and dining is one area that is suffering. I personally think the problem, however, is in the kitchen and not with the wait staff, as I have found them to be plentiful and only too willing to help. Problem is that if they don't have the plated meals to deliver, they can't serve.

They also, presumably to save time, will keep everyone at the table on the same courses. So, if you are seated at a large table where some people are ordering from every course on the menu, while others aren't, the ones ordering only from one or two courses are not going to finish up any quicker than those savoring every course, because they are going to have long waits between courses until they get to the entree stage of the meal.

That's why I've found tables for two or four to work best if time is of the essence, and that's why I preferred the AYW dining when I am traveling with friends. If I am alone, then I don't know, because I would always have to sit at a larger table and thus deal with others' dining habits that could slow down my own. At least the way I look at it, there's nothing wrong with a long, leisurely meal if I have nothing special to do that night, but if I want to catch a show at a certain time, or meet friends in one of the lounges, then I'd rather meal service be a bit more brisker and will probably opt for the Lido on those nights.

By the way, the Lido has become an excellent choice for dinner as far as I am concerned. They have increased the level of tableside service up there in the evenings, and have also increased the serving hours right up until 8:00 p.m. The food available there is pretty much the same as what is being served in the dining room that evening, and the quality is just as good, if not better since in the Lido you can get your meal prepared more to your liking than you can in the dining room.

I think maybe HAL is trying to encourage people to dine in the Lido more and that may be why they have upgraded the dinner service so much. Just a thought.

So, I would suggest you use the dining room for those nights when time doesn't matter, and the Lido when it does. Just a suggestion that has worked for me.

Blue skies ...


Jiminy January 25th, 2009 09:43 PM

We did hear back from HAL about our disappointment with the Zuiderdam in November. They wrote a nice long letter, and offered us dinner for 2 in the Pinnacle Grill on our next HAL cruise. I guess we didn't really expect anything more, but will not be sailing on HAL for a while.

Trip January 25th, 2009 10:06 PM

Jiminy, that you got a response is a plus, since many letters of complaint go unanswered. Thanks for getting back to us, sometimes we never get the end of the story.

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