Holland America’s elephant in the (state) room

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It costs around US$1,000 a night for a deluxe verandah suite on most Holland America (HAL) ships and, sometimes, an extra 50 cents for ear plugs to get a decent rest.

Due to an original design fault, up to 144 of the most expensive suites on 8 HAL ships – Volendam, Maasdam, Ryandan, Statendam, Veendam, Rotterdam, Zaandam, and Amsterdam – are located directly under the often-noisy pool deck.

The sound of deck chairs and tables scraping, running, footsteps, and even table tennis can be heard in many staterooms directly below.

Guests who complain loudly enough and cannot be switched to quieter suites nearer the bow and aft are offered substantial monetary compensation and other sweeteners.

Holland America, while painfully aware of the problem despite years of investigation and attempts at insulation, adopts a policy of denial in its day-to-day operations.

Certainly that was the case on the ms Volendam on which my wife and I recently cruised from Hong Kong to Singapore for 16 nights in suite 7011.

From day one we could hear heavy footsteps and scraping noises from overhead which woke us up during afternoon naps and in the early hours of the morning.

Initially, complaints were met with feigned wide-eyed surprise. But the cat was out of the bag when a crew member in the Neptune Lounge (for suite guests only) opened a desk drawer and came up with a handful of ear plugs.

As the cruise progressed and our stress levels increased, senior officers somewhat reluctantly began to take notice.

An angry guest relations person twice burst into our cabin claiming that no one else had complained, and was appalled that I had dared to poll other suite passengers, several of whom, I discovered, were having similar problems, but were reluctant to complain.

This guest relations person eventually was persuaded to walk up and down on the pool deck while another crew member stood in our suite below, listening. After switching places, they both agreed, grudgingly, that our complaint was justified.

Most damning was a conversation I had with Volendam’s Future Cruise Consultant, a no-nonsense veteran of more than 100 cruises.

Yes, he said he knew all about the suite deck possible noise problems on the 8 “S” and “R” class ships in the 15 vessels of the Holland America fleet.

They had all been built with expensive suites right under the pool deck. Later ships were designed with a buffer of cheaper cabins above the suites.

No, he said, he didn’t specifically warn potential customers, but if they asked which were the best cabins, then he steered them to quieter ones.

“But you have to remember,” he said, “strange noises are the physical reality of ships.”

Official written responses included one from Christine Ferris, Special Advisor in the Office of the President (HAL in Seattle, not the White House): “Your concerns are not particularly common on our vessels; however, we empathize and understand the resulting discomfort.”

Julie G. Pineda, Guest Relations Manager on board Volendam, suggested that HAL didn’t make the noise deliberately just to annoy passengers. She wrote: “It is certainly not our intention for our guests to experience unforeseen technical difficulties.”

By the end of the cruise we had received an offer to move to a lower deck (rejected), a free bottle of wine, US$700 in compensation (accepted) – and tacit confirmation that, yes, HAL does indeed have an elephant in the room.

The author of this article is a veteran semi-retired Australian metropolitan daily newspaper journalist and 25-year member of the Australian Society of Travel Writers