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Comparing the Cruise Lines, Part II
Friday, July 26, 2002
In my previous article, I covered the embarkation process, staterooms and entertainment. Now, let's conclude the comparison between the two cruise lines with a focus on dining, recreation, children, overall atmosphere, and the debarkation process.
Dining is a big event on any cruise, and both the Disney Cruise Line and the Holland America Line provide passengers with many opportunities to eat. Both have a casual buffet restaurant that has open seating during set hours for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The Holland America Line also has a different late night snack in their venue each evening, with one of them being the Chocolate Extravaganza (the Disney Cruise Line does its own version of this one night on the seven-night cruises as well). The Holland America Line has lots of nice indoor seating, while more Disney Cruise Line guests end up eating on deck. Both vary the food somewhat from day to day, and in my opinion the Holland America Line had a wider variety and had more choices for prepared-to-order items.
Both lines have counter-service food available near the pools, with the pizza and chicken strips on the Disney Cruise Line ships being better than the pizza offered by the Holland America Line. The Holland America Line has a taco bar rather than chicken strips, and on both cruise lines you can get burgers and hot dogs.
A fairly recent trend in cruising is the addition of alternative restaurants that can be booked by reservation only. The food is generally Northern Italian, and the restaurant is small and intimate with exceptional service. The Disney Cruise Line's restaurant is called Palo, and is off-limits to passengers under 18 years of age. On the Holland America Line the name varies depending on the ship and there is no age restriction. Both lines serve excellent food in these restaurants, with exceptional service and presentation.
The Holland America Line is the only line that does not charge an extra fee to dine in their alternative restaurants, although at $5 per person Disney Cruise Line's fee is lower than the typical $15 to $25 fee of most other lines. Regardless of which cruise line you choose, do not miss the opportunity to enjoy a great meal in the alternative restaurant. On the Holland America Line it is open for lunch five days a week, and on the Disney Cruise Line it is open for a $15 per person brunch on the two sea days (seven-night cruise only).
Room service is available on both lines, although the Holland America Line offers this service 24 hours a day, and breakfast includes hot food instead of just continental items. On the Holland America Line anything from the main dining room menu can be ordered from room service during the dining room serving hours, so a decision to eat dinner in your stateroom does not mean you have to settle for a sandwich.
The Disney Cruise Line has a rather innovative method of serving dinner to passengers. The Disney Cruise Line ships are equipped with three very different restaurants. Guests and their servers rotate from restaurant to restaurant each night. Animator's Palate has pictures on the walls that add color as the meal progresses, Parrot Cay has a tropical theme, and Lumiere's or Triton's is the more formal French-style restaurant. In contrast, the Holland America Line serves dinner out of a single, large dining room (which is comparable to Lumiere's and Triton's in style and decor) as is traditional on most cruise line ships.
Dining on the Holland America Line ships is a more elegant and traditional affair than on Disney Cruise Line. Most Holland America Line ships have a two-story dining room surrounded by windows on three sides. A string quartet plays classical music while passengers enjoy good food on fine china. Dinners on Disney Cruise Line consist of three courses, while on Holland America Line there are five. This may be due to the large number of children on Disney Cruise Line ships, as it would be difficult for many of them to sit still for a leisurely dinner each night. On any line you can order multiple items, and although I recently heard of some lines (Carnival) charging an extra fee for desserts from a dessert tray neither Disney Cruise Line nor Holland America Line has begun that practice!
Coming to and leaving dinner is a bit different on the two lines. On Disney Cruise Line guests line up at the appointed time, the doors open, and they crowd inside to get to their tables. On the Holland America Line a white-gloved steward carrying a set of chimes wanders from the dining room through the public rooms to summon people to dinner. Some people still line up at the door, but many choose to have a cocktail or do some dancing before dinner, and the chimes are a nice touch.
Coffee drinks have become very popular and are readily available on all ships. Ordinary coffee and tea are at no additional charge on cruise lines, but most (including Disney Cruise Line) charge for anything beyond that. On Holland America Line there is a java bar where passengers can get espresso, cappuccino, latte, cafe' mocha, specialty teas plus cookies at no additional charge. They do charge if you have liqueur added to your drink. Since the coffee drinks can easily cost $3 to $5 on other lines, this is a significant perk in sailing with the Holland America Line.
During the afternoon on the Holland America Line ships, stewards walk around bringing complimentary lemonade or pea soup (depending on whether you are cruising in a warm or cool climate), while the Disney Cruise Line does not do anything like this. Both lines have ice cream bars. The Disney Cruise Line ships offers soft serve, but the Holland America Line serves over 30 different flavors of scooped ice cream, offering four to five flavors at any given time. From my experience, the ice cream bars are open for longer hours on the Holland America Line than on the Disney Cruise Line, too.
Both lines have a wide variety of activities scheduled throughout the day, with more similarities than differences. One thing to note is neither line has begun charging guests an extra fee for participating in most of the activities, as others lines are starting to do.
Some passengers prefer relaxing with a good book or playing cards or games with friends. The Holland America Line ships have a gorgeous library on board, with a separate room for jigsaw puzzles and a 3rd room full of tables for playing cards or board games. All of these rooms are along the edge of the ship, so the view through the windows is beautiful. There is also a small library on the Disney Cruise Line ships, but it appears to be more of an afterthought - it was on a low deck, in the interior of the ship, and not a place I would seek out to spend any time.
Swimming pools are a popular recreational feature on any cruise ship. The Disney Cruise Line ships have three, with one solely for small children and another for people aged 18 years or older. On the Holland America Line there are two or three pools (it varies from ship to ship) plus a small wading pool, and all pools are open to everyone.
The Disney Cruise Line has the best pools for very young children, complete with a water slide. The pool is only 18 inches deep, so older children would not be interested for long. However, the Disney Cruise Line also allows older children at the family pool, which does not have a water slide.
On Holland America Line there are no water slides, but they do have a pool that can be covered by a retractable roof during chilly weather, such as for Alaskan cruises.
On the Holland America Line ships cruising in Alaska, all pools were heated, just like at the Walt Disney World resorts. Deck chairs are plentiful, and are far more comfortable than the Disney Cruise Line lounge chairs. Each morning a steward places a nice thick cushion and a rolled up pool towel on each chair, while on Disney Cruise Line guests are on their own to spread their towel on a relatively hard plastic lounge chair.
Sports and fitness enthusiasts can find a number of ways to stay active during their cruise. Both lines have an extensive spa, offering all kinds of services. Both have a large fitness center, with the edge going to the Holland America Line in terms of size and equipment. Both offer fitness classes, and I was disappointed to see that the Holland America Line now charges passengers who participate in these. They are still complimentary on Disney Cruise Line. The Holland America Line was well known in the industry for its Passport to Fitness program, where guests earned "stamps" in their fitness passport for various activities. At the end of the cruise those passports could be redeemed for logo merchandise such as T-shirts, caps, and jackets. Sadly, they discontinued the prizes, but it is still fun to participate and try to work off some of the extra calories being consumed.
Both lines have a sports deck where passengers can play with friends or strangers. On the Disney Cruise Line the sport is basketball, while the Holland America Line has both tennis and volleyball (one on either side of the ship).
Both ships have the expected ping pong tables, shuffleboard courts, and a promenade deck for walking.
When it comes to cruising with children, it should come as no surprise to anyone that the Disney Cruise Line is the industry leader! Their programs are unequaled by anyone else in the industry, and parents can almost spend a week barely even seeing their children if they so choose. The program on Holland America Line (Club HAL) is beefed up during school vacation periods and is a great program, but it is no match for the Disney Cruise Line. On many Holland America Line ships there is a separate room set aside for Club HAL participants, but it is a fraction of the space provided on the Disney Cruise Line. On the Amsterdam it was a tiny room on an upper deck - not much bigger than a stateroom. Granted there are relatively few children expected to be on this ship since it primarily does World Voyages and Alaska cruises, both of which see primarily adult passengers.
Both lines have special menus for children who do not wish to order from the regular menu, with the choices being typical "kid fare" of chicken fingers, hamburgers, and pizza. The Holland America Line requires children to be age 5 or above to participate in the children's club. They have no nursery for infants.
Atmosphere is where we get into the more subtle differences between the Disney Cruise Line and the Holland America Line. Of course, these subtleties may or may not be important from person to person. Which ship is nicer may be a personal judgment call, although in my opinion the Holland America Line ships are far more elegant than those of the Disney Cruise Line. Given the number of children cruising on the Disney Cruise Line though, this may have been a very wise design decision.
Both ships have a spectacular center atrium lobby, but the Holland America Line boasts far more expensive artwork and nicer furnishings, which hold up well in a primarily adult market. Service tends to be at a higher level on the Holland America Line as well. For example, more often than not a steward will hand or bring something to a guest. For example, they often carry your tray of dessert at the buffet to your table as well. The Holland America Line does not use styrofoam cups or paper plates at the counter service places. Dining and drinking outdoors is still done on real plates & cups, although the stuff is less breakable than the fine china used in the restaurants. The Holland America Line promotes this as part of their pledge to protect the environment, but it has the pleasant side effect of creating a nicer ambiance versus eating off paper plates!
Sadly, every cruise eventually comes to an end, and passengers must leave to make way for the new group. On the Disney Cruise Line everyone heads to the dining room for breakfast and then congregates in the lobby until the doors open to let people disembark. The regular buffet breakfast is not available, except possibly for continental breakfast, and there is no room service. Guests are let off the ship the same way they were let on in one big mass of bodies.
The Holland America Line takes a different approach. All passengers are assigned individual numbers for disembarking based on their post-cruise plans (such as airline flight times or connecting transportation). We were staying to spend the weekend in the port city, so we were simply asked what time we wanted to leave the ship and were issued a number that got us off within 15 minutes of that time. The buffet serves a full breakfast, as does the dining room, and I believe room service operates as well. When your number is called, you leave the ship with a smaller group of passengers, which helps expedite the process.
No single cruise line or ship is the best choice for everyone. When choosing a cruise it becomes important to pick one that best meet your needs and expectations. Hopefully some of the information from my articles will assist you in making the best choice for your particular vacation.
Contact Sue at email@example.com.
Sue has been hooked on Walt Disney World since her first visit in 1972 with her parents and younger brother. She kept returning more frequently until she moved to Florida in 1986.
After joining the Disney Vacation Club (DVC) in 1997, she now visits almost monthly. She also spends time at the DVC's non-WDW locations, and is experienced with the Disney cruise ships.
She takes many of these trips on her own, but she's also toured WDW with large groups of people, including families, the elderly, and people with disabilities.
She works as the Administrative Services Division Head for a large residential facility administered by the Florida Department of Children and Families. She currently resides in Southwest Florida with her teenage son.
Sue is one of our most prolific trip report writers. Read her trip report archive here.
You can contact Sue here.
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