New deck plan results in less congeniality

This item appears on page 27 of the November 2011 issue.

My husband, Mark, and I took a Holland America Line (HAL) cruise on the Rotterdam from San Diego, California, to Callao, Peru, and back, Oct. 23-Nov. 22, 2010. We paid about $7,500 for the two of us.

Our cabin, No. 3388 on the Lower Promenade Deck, had a partially obstructed sea view, which was fine with us. This was our first time on the new Rotterdam, but on our many cruises aboard HAL ships we have particularly liked the Lower Promenade Deck because it did not require our going up stairs or an elevator to get from our cabin to either side of the ship for the best viewing. (I have limited mobility.)

In our opinion, this deck has been one of the more attractive features of HAL ships — open to all passengers, comfortable, even serene. We were willing to pay a little more to be on this deck, though it would cost a little less than a cabin with a balcony and a few more amenities. We have found it to be an exceptionally nice public space.

On our 30-day South America cruise, however, we discovered that the Rotterdam has “Lanai” cabins, which offer their occupants direct access to the deck via a sliding door and have two reserved deck chairs per cabin. This does two things.

First, the reserved chairs, which have unimpeded ocean views, occupy nearly all of the deck space, confining nearly all of the unreserved deck chairs to areas of the deck where structural details block scenery and sun.

Perhaps more importantly, with the Lanai cabins, HAL has effectively privatized what has been a gracious public space on their ships. What you have on the Rotterdam is a partially public and partially private space with large swaths of seating off limits to all but the people occupying particular cabins. Even Lanai-suite passengers run into this limitation, should they wish to sit on the other side of the ship.

In my opinion, this policy is a disastrous corporate decision. I found myself walking longer distances to find a seat that wasn’t boxed in by flat metal walls or I simply sat in the library, which was pleasant but hardly prime wildlife-watching territory. No longer the welcoming space it was on other ships, the Lower Promenade Deck on the Rotterdam is a challenge.

Probably more important for more people is the necessity to negotiate this not-really-public, not-really-private space. I saw happy “Happy Hour” folks gathering too close to the big glass doors of a Lanai cabin whose occupant felt vulnerable enough to come out to ask if she could be seen inside.

I saw Lanai occupants, mostly at the beginning of the cruise, accidentally locking themselves out (you don’t take your key out on your porch at home) and others worried that their cabin was too vulnerable. In one instance, I saw a very casually (un)dressed Lanai occupant happily wandering and smoking on deck and physically blocking the path of dedicated walkers. To him, the space was clearly private.

I know all this seems petty when measured against the economic advantage these cabins apparently offer HAL, and I do not begrudge them additional income. I have no problem with having whole additional decks of cabins with private balconies, if they can fill them.

What I do think the corporate decision makers didn’t sufficiently consider with the introduction of Lanai cabins was the diminished value of what had been, until now, a jewel in the Holland America crown. For the first time, I find I’m looking elsewhere for our next voyage, and that’s sad.

I would be interested in hearing of people’s experiences with other cruise lines. We prefer smaller ships with creative, interesting itineraries rather than megaships offering amenities we probably wouldn’t use.

This cruise took us through the Aztec, Maya and Inca worlds and showed us modern, traditional and ancient cultures. I will never forget Peru, for instance, but, for the first time, getting there was not half the fun.

My only other caveat is that the speakers’ program was somewhat disjointed, and we could have profited from the insight of someone with a more comprehensive knowledge of pre-Columbian history.

HAL did, in fact, deliver on our two top priorities: itinerary and staff. We enjoyed very much many of our ports of call. We even left the ship in Trujillo, Peru, for 3½ days of independent travel in Cuzco and the Sacred Valley (a lifelong dream, if too short a visit), returning to the ship in Callao, Peru.

My only concern is the diminishment of civility and convenience now built into the cabin arrangements.

Kirkland, WA


ITN mailed and e-mailed copies of the above letter to Holland America Line (300 Elliott Ave. West, Seattle, WA 98119; guest and and received no reply.

Holland America Line ships now with Lanai staterooms are the Rotterdam, Veendam and Maasdam, with the Statendam soon to follow.