New Holland America program offers truly “last minute” cruises

If you like cruising and have the ability and temperament to take off with as little as two days’ notice, a new program being offered by Holland America Lines (HAL) may be for you.

Called the “Standby List” program, it offers fares for just $49 per person per day, excluding taxes, fees and port expenses. But there are caveats, including that the program is limited to guests 21 and older.

ms Zuiderdam in port, Tallin, Estonia
First, would-be mariners review the list of cruises on offer, which is available here. Then, they contact their travel advisor or call HAL at 877-724-5425. At present, online registration is not available.

Guests are charged when they sign up for their preferred sailing. HAL will review the list of standby passengers anywhere from a week to two days before sailing and, if space is available, passengers will be contacted in the order they joined the queue and told to pack their bags.

HAL cautions that once a guest puts themselves on the standby list for a cruise, they cannot be removed from it. If that guest is selected for the cruise, they will be charged for the full cruise regardless of whether the guest actually sails.

“Guests wanting the ability to remove themselves/not be charged for the Cruise if they elect not to sail should instead opt to go on a cruise waitlist (and pay at prevailing rates), not this non-refundable Program,” HAL says on its web page.

Standby passengers who are not confirmed by HAL at least two days before the cruise departure will have two options: cancel their reservation and get a full refund or, for the truly spur-of-the-moment traveler, remain on the cruise’s standby list until 90 minutes prior to the departure, presumably with bags packed, passport in hand, and transportation to the port standing by. Travelers who choose to remain on the list until the last minute but ultimately do not sail will have their fare refunded.

As you might have already concluded, because of the short time between notification and departure the program is intended for those within driving distance of the departure port. While not officially limited to those who live close enough to drive, getting to the port on short notice by other modes of transportation could be dicey, especially if air travel is involved. Last-minute airfares tend to be among the most expensive, which could offset any potential savings from the cruise fare.

The Standby List will likely appeal to those with schedules that allow them to take off on virtually a moment’s notice for a week or more, such as retired folks or students on summer vacation or taking a gap year, or people who have vacation time blocked out but are flexible about their vacation activities.

Passengers will also have to be flexible about the type of cabin they will accept. Guests are charged for an interior stateroom category but may be assigned any stateroom category up to a verandah suite, based on availability. Beverage packages, Wi-Fi, shore excursions and specialty dining are all available at additional cost. See my previous post, Counting the cost of a cruise, for more details about the all-in costs of cruising.

Verandah suite aboard ms Zuiderdam

At present, sailings are available from Seattle and Vancouver, BC; Whittier, AK; San Diego; Ft. Lauderdale; Boston; and Montreal and Quebec.

If all of this fits your travel style and personality, bon voyage!

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Photos by Carl Dombek
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