Arrangements were fluid

This item appears on page 31 of the October 2010 issue.

A group of us decided to take the cruise “Brazil and Argentine Discovery,” offered by Holland America Line (HAL), March 11-25, 2010. Starting and ending in Rio de Janeiro, the Veendam would go as far south as Buenos Aires, with stops at several ports in Brazil and Uruguay.

We booked a pre-cruise extension offered by HAL in which we would arrive in Rio on March 7, spend the night, fly to Iguazú Falls for two nights, then go back to Rio for one night before boarding the ship the next day.

We anticipated doing what the ship line had planned for us in Rio but also wanted to do some independent touring during the rest of the time available to us, so I asked HAL what time the flight would leave for Iguazú on day two and what time we would return from Iguazú to Rio. I was told that the times would not be available until 50 days before the trip. Okay, I would just wait a bit before contacting any travel sightseeing agencies in Rio.

At the 50-day mark, I started calling HAL and was met by a “stone wall” with each phone call. My travel agent was not able to do any better. After many calls over a period of weeks, I was finally told that we would receive the flight departure and arrival information when we reached our hotel in Rio. How would it be possible to do any planning with such short notice?

Two weeks before the cruise I spoke to a “lead” agent, who put me on hold for about 15 minutes and returned with the flight information. Now I could do some minimal planning… or so I thought.

One of our group was concerned about the time HAL would be picking us up at our hotel prior to the flight from Rio to Iguazú, thereby shortening our sightseeing time. I called HAL again and was told by a different “lead” that the first lead should never have given me any flight times because he couldn’t possibly know them. I was back to square one.

Upon my request, I spoke to a “supervisor,” who explained that the Iguazú portion of the trip was handled by a subcontracted company and, therefore, limited information was available. I said that that was unacceptable. She said she would see what she could do, and five hours later she informed me that the flight times, indeed, were unavailable.

I requested to speak to someone in an even higher position. A representative called back and corroborated the flight times given me by the first lead I spoke to but said she could not advise me of the time of pickup at the hotel.

This was a very frustrating, unpleasant and disappointing experience.


Melville, NY

Mr. Burack told ITN that he wrote to HAL on Feb. 26 and received a “generic form letter reply” dated March 19 with no reaction to his actual complaint. ITN e-mailed a copy of Mr. Burack’s letter to Holland America Line (300 Elliott Ave. West, Seattle, WA 98119) and received no reply. Answering ITN’s questions about what transpired during the pre-cruise stay, Mr. Burack wrote the following.

When we arrived in Rio on March 7, we finally were given the times of departure from and arrival at both Rio and Iguazú. They compared favorably to the times I had been told.

As it turned out, there was no free time on day two (March 8), as the schedule was changed again. The plane departed Rio at 5:05 p.m. on day two, arriving at Iguazú at 7 p.m.

The trip to Iguazú was great! On day four (March 10), the return flight left Iguazú at 3:45 p.m., arriving in Rio at 5:45.

With the changed schedule, we had done on day two what had been scheduled with HAL for day five. We therefore had free time on day five and arranged our own private tour that day.

About two months before the cruise, I had e-mailed a tour company in Brazil that does favela tours and asked them to reserve a slot for us on day two. They responded that all we had to do was call them on the day we wanted the tour and it would be no problem. Therefore, luckily, it was relatively easy to switch the planned tour from day two to day five. Neither Holland America nor the hotel were involved.

On March 11, upon our returning to the hotel after our private favela tour, we were picked up by an HAL-arranged bus at 2 p.m. and taken to the ship.