Princess vs Holland America

I’ve just spent a few days on my first Princess cruise ship and can’t help but compare it to my previous cruises. Here I’ll take a look at Princess vs Holland America and give my opinion on my favourite.

Cruising has become more and more popular recently, and I have joined in with the trend. I am still a relatively inexperienced cruiser, but I have finally spread my wings and tried a second cruise line.

We all have different cruise styles, here you will see mine, and find out which cruise line I will (probably) book next.

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My Previous Cruises

For context, in the past I have done three cruises on Holland America Line

  • 7-day Alaska (2019) on Volendam
  • 14-day Sydney to Auckland (2020) on Maasdam
  • 22-day South America & Antarctica (2023) on Oosterdam

My recent Princess cruise was a simple 4-day Melbourne to Adelaide on Grand Princess.

It is hard to compare a short cruise to the longer ones, but I am going to give it a go.

The front half of the Holland America Line cruise ship Maasdam berthed in Circular Quay with the Sydney Opera House in the background
Maasdam docked at Circular Quay, Sydney

The Overall Cruise Styles

Both Holland America and Princess are renowned for their commitment to delivering exceptional experiences. They do cater to distinct tastes though.

Holland America Line has more of a classic elegance and refined luxury, with a fleet of beautifully designed ships like the Pinnacle-class vessels. They offer spacious staterooms and a focus on cultural enrichment.

On the other hand, Princess Cruises leans towards modern sophistication with a fleet that includes the innovative Royal-class ships, which have a vibrant and contemporary atmosphere.

While Holland America Line attracts a slightly older demographic who love refined experiences, Princess Cruises casts a wider net, drawing in families, couples, and adventurers seeking a dynamic and diverse environment.

If you like your food you will revel in both cruise lines’ food offerings, with Holland America Line presenting a more traditional dining approach and Princess Cruises embracing a mix of traditional and innovative options.

Neither cruise line is regarded as having party ships, and neither caters extensively for children. There are no waterslides or large game areas here.

My Thoughts

While there were differences in the cruises we booked, I’m going to try to compare some of the most important aspects of the cruises.

The Ships

All of the HAL ships had a very similar layout and feel about them. Even though their passenger capacities range from 1266 (Maasdam) to 1964 (Oosterdam) there was not much difference in their public areas.

The Grand Princess has a capacity of more than 2600 passengers (up to 3100 if every room is filled to the max eg: kids) but the main public areas seemed to be similar in size to the HAL ships.

There was one extra main dining area, and the casino was larger than HAL, but everything else seemed comparable.

The iside of a bar on a cruise ship
The Wheelhouse Bar on Grand Princess

So the first thing I noticed was the Grand Princess felt much more crowded than the HAL ships as we walked around.

One of the things I enjoy when I’m cruising is walking the decks. I like to get out of the airconditioning and enjoy some fresh air while clocking up my 10,000 steps – so I can enjoy that dessert!

The deck on Maasdam
The Maasdam deck. All of the HAL ships had wider decks like this.

The deck on the Grand Princess was much narrower than the HAL ships, some areas required us to walk single file. This made it harder to walk without piling up behind slower walkers.

This was not helped as the deck does not do a complete lap of the ship on the Grand Princess.

Either it requires walking back and forth in a horseshoe shape or going up, and then down, two sets of stairs at the bow to do the lap.

The stairs were only an option on one day of our cruise, they were closed in rougher seas, so we had to do the horseshoe loop on the first day.

The deck of a cruise ship
The widest part of the deck on the Grand Princess

The main atrium area of the Grand Princess was much more impressive than on any of the HAL ships though, and there were more pools and spas available in various areas both inside and out.

The Staterooms

On each of the three HAL cruises I booked an Inside Cabin. The first two cabins were similar, but the third, longer cruise had us in one of the smaller inside cabins.

This meant that the first two cabins had a small lounge to sit on, with a table, as well as a desk area with mirror. The Oosterdam cabin did not have a lounge, just a single chair to sit at the table.

An inside cruise ship room showing a bed with a lounge and deck
The larger inside room from Maasdam

On the Grand Princess we booked a balcony cabin. We were upgraded from category BF to BD, but I think that simply meant we were on a different deck.

Our room did not have a lounge but did have a reasonable desk with a chair.

There was more space than the HAL cabins, and of course the balcony – but that was only just big enough for two chairs and a small table.

The bathrooms were bigger on HAL, but both contained the same amenities. Each had a relatively small – but adequate – shower and a single basin.

All four of the ships I have sailed on have been of a similar vintage, ranging from 1998 to 2003. The stateroom of the Grand Princess felt more dated than the HAL ships.

It was not dirty and there was no wear and tear, it was simply the decor itself that made the room seem older.

A cruise ship stateroom featuring the bed with the balcony visible through the curtains.
The Grand Princess balcony room

While we were only on the Grand Princess for three days, I only really went out onto the balcony as we were coming into port in Adelaide, as such I did not feel like the extra expense was worth it.

Maybe we have become too used to the inside cabins and spending all our time elsewhere on the ship, or maybe we need a longer cruise to really enjoy the balcony.

Whatever the case, I will only choose a balcony if it’s a cheap upgrade like this one – it was $50 extra each to go from an inside cabin to a balcony on this cruise.

The Food

The food is really hard for me to judge. On the HAL cruises I was eating normally but on the Princess cruise I was sticking to my plant-based diet.

On that front, it was difficult. There was not a huge range of vegan options, and some basics were missing. In particular, there was not a single vegan dessert available to me at any time during the cruise.

But, ignoring that, the food was fabulous in the main dining rooms on both cruises. Maybe it was a touch better on HAL, but there was still certainly nothing to complain about on Princess.

My husband was pleased with all his meals and I asked others what they thought – there were no complaints! My vegan meals were delicious, even if there wasn’t much choice. I cannot fault the quality.

The HAL buffet was much more extensive than on Princess with a much wider range available. Things like the omelette station and more Asian foods were appreciated.

I also found the layout of the buffet easier to work with on HAL. It felt more crowded on Princess, dodging others and waiting for each station – but that could have simply been because there were more people.

The buffet on a cruise ship
The HAL buffet is long and straight making access easier

We didn’t try any of the specialty or other eateries on Princess, because they did not have any vegan options available for me.

We loved the Pinnacle Grill on HAL. The Italian restaurant was nice, but not worth paying the extra in my opinion. We also enjoyed the casual meals of burgers and tacos around the pool.

The Service

Two out of my three HAL cruises were before Covid, one after. I didn’t notice a significant difference in the service on those cruises, but I did on Princess.

It seemed like they were very short-staffed, and one staff member did mention they were – but I don’t know if that is because they legitimately can’t get more staff or Princess just isn’t employing more staff.

After the huge financial losses during covid, it’s understandable that there will be some corners being cut.

A bar on the pool deck of a cruise ship
The bar on the pool deck on Maasdam

We most noticed the difference with our meals in the main dining room. The servers seemed to be much busier, dealing with more tables, so it took longer to get menus, have our orders taken etc.

In the bars, it seemed to take longer for the staff to come and take drinks orders and then get our drinks.

At one stage we stopped in to do one of the trivia events, and it was over before we received our drink, which was not ideal because we were moving on to something else.

The Entertainment

On our HAL cruises, we have found the entertainment in the theatres decent but not amazing. We’ve enjoyed it, but only gone along if we had nothing better to do.

Our preference was always the piano bar where there were two pianos set up and the musicians played hits back to the 60’s. The crowd always enjoyed it and we could all sing along.

There was a little of this on Princess, but we didn’t spend a lot of time there because it clashed with my husband’s favourite activity – karaoke!

Princess has a “Voice of the Ocean” competition that is fun, but as we were only onboard for half of the cruise Simon could not compete.

We did go to one show in the theatre on Princess, which was a British musical performance. It was entertaining and fun, without being amazing – which seems to be fairly standard for cruise ship shows.

One of the lectures on Oosterdam

One of our favourite things about HAL is their lectures (for want of a better word!).

Every cruise we’ve been on has had fantastic scientists, destination experts, even photographers and other interesting travellers doing presentations.

The two guys on our Antarctic cruise packed out the theatre, it was live-streamed to a second theatre, and still, there weren’t enough seats. They were incredibly interesting and entertaining.

A man and female dancer on a stage
Themed shows such as salsa when in Argentina featured on the HAL ships.

We noticed too that HAL had more themed entertainment options – such as a salsa dance show in Argentina and learning the Haka in New Zealand.

We’ve also enjoyed the trivia and game shows on all the ships. Princess has a larger range of game shows, the ones we saw were easy and fun.

All the ships had many more activities that we didn’t participate in. Princess has their fabulous movies under the stars on the big screen above the pool, but it was too cold for that for us!

The top deck of a cruise ship with a pool and a large outdoor movie screen
Movies Under the Stars on Grand Princess

There are also dozens of sports and activities, classes (such as computer classes), meetups of all sorts of groups (just some I saw – knitters, bookclub, lgbtqia+, veterans, AA, etc), bingo, the casino, the spa.

There is no way to be bored on a cruise. If you are, you’re not trying hard enough.

The Value for Money

This is a hard one to judge because cruise prices have changed so much since our first cruise in 2019.

Sometimes I have booked the basic accommodation-only packages, sometimes I have added a bundle with extras like wifi, specialty dining and gratuities.

Cruises in Australia – so the cruise on Princess – don’t have gratuities at all, but all the HAL cruises have had a standard amount per person per day.

A table with a jigsaw puzzle on it on a cruise ship with a view of the ocean through the windows
The Crows Nest on Volemdam was one of my favourite places

I have managed to get good prices on all of our cruises – the two pre-covid cruises worked out at not much more than $100AUD/person/night before any extras – often by booking just a couple of weeks in advance. This was a bargain in my eyes.

The most recent Princess cruise was just over $200AUD/person/night, including wifi, the drinks package a balcony cabin instead of inside and more.

For what we got, that was great value for money.

If we had stayed at a decent hotel for three nights, eaten out for all three meals, paid for some entertainment, had a couple of coffees and 2-3 alcoholic drinks each day, then it would probably have been more.

The Verdict

Volendam waiting for us to come aboard in Vancouver

I feel like I need to take another Princess cruise to give a fair assessment, but sometimes first impressions do stick. So I have to say HAL is still my preference between these two cruise lines.

I wouldn’t discount going on another Princess cruise if the location and the price were right, but if everything else was equal, I would choose HAL.

I don’t love crowds and I really noticed the larger numbers of people on Princess as we moved around the ship and tried to find seats in bars and restaurants.

I did not see any quiet corners of the ship where I could have taken a book and enjoyed some quiet time.

Every bar and lounge seemed to always have several people in them, even if not full. I was told that the best quiet place during the day is the nightclub area, but I didn’t have a chance to check it out.

I don’t have any more cruises booked, and don’t think I will be doing one this year, but when I start looking, HAL will be my first choice.

Want more opinions and reviews? Check out the Cruise Critic website here

Read these cruise posts next…
Travel Diaries – Alaskan Cruise
Is Cruising for You – the Pros and Cons
Santiago to Buenos Aires via Antarctica

TRAVEL PLANNING ESSENTIALS

Find flights – I always use Skyscanner as my starting point when searching for flights. One search will give many options including airlines I may not have thought of. This means I can find the best possible flights to suit my needs

Book accommodation – my go to is always Booking.com for the best places to stay. It’s not just hotels anymore, but hostels, apartments, B&Bs and more. I love that the bookings are usually cancellable, and that I can book now and pay later.

Hire a rental carRentalCars.com is my go to here. It allows me to do just one search and it finds cars from many of the different supplies, so no checking multiple websites to compare.

Get travel insurance – you would have heard by now that saying “if you can’t afford travel insurance, you can’t afford to travel”. If we’ve learnt anything from the last couple of years it should be how essential travel insurance is. I use CoverMore for my insurance.

Pick up an eSIM – I tried an eSIM on my last trip and it was fantastic. I set it up before I went so it was ready as soon as I landed, and I still had access to my home number for emergencies. Get your own eSIM at Airalo.

Book activities, tours & attractions – I use a few different websites for this. Viator and Get Your Guide tend to be the first places I look. In Asia, Klook often has more options, and in Australia it’s Experience Oz.

Manage your money – the best way to manage your different currencies is with an account from Wise. You can hold money in many different currencies, and use them with the ATM card or from your phone.

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