Sailing in Holland America’s Pinnacle Suite

Written by Mark McElroy

Was the Eurodam’s Room 7036 all it’s cracked up to be?

The Allure of the Pinnacle Suite

We’ve been sailing on Holland America ships for years — long enough to be “four star mariners” (their term for customers who have spent more than 200 days at sea).

Ever since our first Holland America cruise back in 2007, we’ve felt the allure of the Pinnacle Suite — the largest, most luxurious room available on the company’s ships. In addition to being four times the size of a standard room, the Pinnacle Suite offers amenities (like a private hot tub on the extended balcony), fancy fixtures (a spacious tub and a steam shower), and a higher level of service and attention than other passengers receive.

Another element of the Pinnacle Suite’s appeal is the air of mystery that surrounds it. In all our time on HAL ships, we’ve never managed to sneak a peek into the Pinnacle … and on every cruise we’ve ever taken, the Pinnacle Suite has been booked up (despite its hefty price tag). Online information is pretty much limited to one video tour by a travel agent and one former occupant’s blog post.

When we saw the Pinnacle Suite was available for Clyde’s 60th birthday cruise to Greece, we asked about an upgrade … and to our pleasure and surprise, we found ourselves booked into the Pinnacle Suite for about a little over a third of the advertised room rate.

So: would the Pinnacle Suite spoil me on sailing in standard cabins forever? (Frankly, Clyde was worried that it might.) Were rumors that the room came with a full-time butler true? (Nope.) Would sailing in the Pinnacle Suite be the most luxurious cruising experience of our lives? (In some ways, yes … but in other ways, not at all.)

In this post, I’m holding nothing back. I’m pulling no punches. I’m telling all the secrets. Here’s everything you’ve ever wanted to know about Holland America’s Pinnacle Suite experience — including whether or not we think you should spend your hard-earned money on a Pinnacle Suite experience of your own.

Three Things about This Review

First: far too many (unscrupulous) travel bloggers accept perks, paybacks, or free services in exchange for the articles they write. So let me make this clear: I don’t work for Holland America. While we were onboard, Holland America had no idea I’d be sharing my experiences with you. I received no gifts, discounts, or compensation of any kind in exchange for writing this post. I paid my own way with my own hard-earned money — just like you do.

Second: whenever I write about a luxury travel experience, I’m painfully aware that touting the best of what we enjoyed can sound like bragging … just as critiquing what wasn’t up to par can make me sound like an entitled asshole. Please remember that I have only one motive for sharing the highs and lows of our experience: I want to help you decide whether or not to invest your own travel dollars in a Pinnacle Suite experience of your own.

And finally: while it can be fun to read or write snarky reviews, my own work is always created in the spirit of helping a provider improve the customer’s experience. Rather than skewer HAL here for any short comings, my goal is to offer insights they could use to make a good experience 10% better.

A Word about Us

Your hosts for this excursion: Mark and Clyde

We’re experienced world travelers. Before COVID, we took as many as six or seven international trips per year. We’ve both logged more than a million miles on Delta flights alone, and we’re four-star mariners (frequent cruisers) on Holland America. In short: we get around, and we know what sets an incredible travel experience apart from the average or routine.

That said: we also happen to be about the lowest maintenance customers a travel supplier is likely to meet. We’re independent. We like to be liked. We know that travel involves chaos, and we’re patient and forgiving when plans go awry. When a kitchen gets our dinner order wrong, we’re mostly likely to just eat and appreciate the meal that arrives.

All of this to say: when it comes to travel (and especially luxury travel), we are neither starry-eyed first-time tourists nor demanding, over-entitled jerks. We’re just two extraordinarily average, easy-going guys who choose to invest a significant amount of our disposable income on travel.

Pinnacle Suite Greeting and Arrival

We arrived at the cruise ship terminal in Athens just after noon on a bright, hot summer Sunday. We’d read that, as Pinnacle Suite guests, we’d go through an expedited line and — in a touch that seemed a bit over the top to us — be escorted to our room by a special concierge.

None of this happened. After being aggressively tested for COVID-19 prior to boarding (I think some brain tissue came off on that cotton swab!), we were pointed to the gangway and left to our own devices.

Behold the testing tent, where Greek medical technicians armed with cotton swabs held jousting matches with our nostrils.

As people who have been on Holland America ships many times — including this very ship, the Eurodam, once before — we knew right where to go. But if this had been our first time aboard, or if we were people who needed (or even just expected) an escort — this could have made for a frustrating arrival.

Once we got to our room, our cabin steward, Wahoo, popped in and showed us where the closets were. We had read that someone would be on hand to demonstrate the suite’s more esoteric systems (like the confusing light controls or the built-in sound system), but this didn’t happen, either.

It’s possible, of course, that COVID-19 protocols have forced HAL to rethink greeting and escorting Pinnacle guests. If that’s the case, though, it would be better to communicate these changes up front rather than have Pinnacle guests expect one level of service and receive another.

Features of the Pinnacle Suite

Beds Aplenty

The Pinnacle Suite includes a king-size bed that housekeeping can set up to be firmer or softer, depending on your preferences.

The king-size bed in Room 7036 is large enough to get lost in!

In addition, the entertainment console in the living room conceals a Murphy bed. If you’re traveling with two (close) friends, you could request that their bed be set up and retracted by the housekeeping staff each day. (The fact that the Pinnacle Suite includes a spacious half-bath for guests that’s accessible from the living room would make this arrangement more tenable than usual.)

Room to Roam

In addition to a spacious living area (large enough to comfortably seat six guests), there’s a separate dining area with an expandable table and a writing desk.

The dining area in the Pinnacle Suite includes an expandable table and a china cabinet stocked with Waterford crystal. Fresh flowers are maintained daily. The little window above the writing desk looks out at the hot tub on the veranda!

The expansive bedroom can be completely closed off from the public space by means of two large doors and has access to an embarrassingly large master bathroom which includes a water closet room (with sink, toilet, and European bidet), a whirlpool tub large enough for two, a complicated steam shower, and the largest walk-in closet I’ve seen on any cruise ship. It’s the equivalent of four standard closets in a row along one wall, plus an additional closet with a safe on the opposite wall.)

Seen here: about 1/3 of the Pinnacle Suite’s cavernous master bath.

As if this were not enough space, the wrap-around veranda offers two more reclining seats, a table for four, a hot-tub/whirlpool for two, and a couch for three.

One half of the long, wrap-around veranda accessible to Pinnacle Suite guests.

… And the other half, complete with hot tub and couch.

But wait … there’s more.

The Curious Butler’s Pantry

Just off the main entrance — across from the guest bathroom — there’s the butler’s pantry: a galley kitchen, complete with a coffeemaker, a tea kettle, a half-sized refrigerator/freezer, a convection oven, and a prep sink. There’s even a door to the hallway which, if used, would allow staff to access the pantry without having to come through the suite.

Despite the name, the Butler’s Pantry no longer seems to come with a butler.

That door — and, of course, the very existence of a butler’s pantry — implies the presence of a butler. I’ve read about other people’s experiences in this room, which seem to have involved the presence and support of a specific crew member exclusively assigned to assist with anything from making reservations to preparing food for Pinnacle Suite residents and their guests.

In fact, on previous voyages, while lurking outside the Pinnacle Suite and trying (in a strictly not-creepy kind of way, I swear) to get an idea about what was going on in there, we even observed one elderly Pinnacle Suite couple being escorted to every dinner and show by a uniformed young man we assumed was “the Pinnacle Suite butler.”

The Pinnacle’s Concierge Service

Alas, if the Pinnacle Suite ever came with additional or exclusive staff, it no longer does (or, at least, it didn’t during our stay). Instead, we had access to the very same concierge supporting all guests who stay in the (much more affordable) Neptune Suite rooms. He offered us the same level of support those guests received, and we had to compete with Neptune Suite guests for his time and attention.

Don’t get me wrong: the Neptune Suite concierge staff were sweet and helpful! But it’s important to know that, as a Pinnacle Suite guest, you no longer seem to receive any special level of attention. Armed with that information, you can set your expectations (and the price you’re willing to spend on your room!) accordingly.

Pinnacle Suite guests have access to the Neptune Lounge, where sweets, hearty snacks, and beverages are available throughout the day. There are two members of the concierge staff posted here, too, who help with shore excursions and reservations. Neptune Suite guests also get access to this room and its services.

High Tech Perks

The Pinnacle Suite includes a custom lighting control that looks a bit like the transporter controls on Star Trek. We think it should allow lights in individual rooms to be switched on, off, and dimmed as needed. But honestly, despite being tech-savvy people, we never got the hang of it. Over the course of the week, we were constantly dimming or turning all lights off when we meant to alter settings for just one room … or, worse, turning all lights on full-blast when trying to turn on just one bedside lamp in the middle of the night.

The suite includes a multi-speaker sound system as well, designed to allow music or television sound to play in individual rooms and even on the balcony. Especially in this day and age, you’ll probably expect your own tunes to be pumped through this system directly from your iPhone or iPad. There’s no way to do so, though, so you’ll have to make do with music from one of a few satellite music channels … or be content to Bluetooth your tunes to one tiny Bose speaker on the desk in the dining room.

The first time we turned on our bubbly whirlpool bath in the master suite, we thought we had slipped onto a Stephen King-themed cruise, because it filled up with blood. Well, not blood, exactly; on closer inspection, the water was saturated with rust. This cleared eventually, of course, but it would have been nice to have someone else attend to this before we checked in.

Our balcony hot tub never functioned properly. While it would fill with water, the jets themselves and the controls on the complicated keypad simply didn’t work. When we mentioned this the first time, the staff seemed to write it off to our inability to figure out how to work the unit. But after we demonstrated the problem, engineering came to the room twice … and, by the end of our cruise, the jets seemed to be working at about 10% of normal pressure. The control panel, unfortunately, continued to be all but inoperative.

As a result, we spent a lot of time in the steam-shower, which was one of those cylinders with a rain forest shower head, a hand-held hose, several spray nozzles embedded in the walls, and even a special foot-scrubbing attachment. Think of it as the car wash of shower stalls! This, too, took some figuring out, and we had many wet surprises as we toyed with the various dials and settings.

All of this to say: it’s great to include high-tech features in your ship’s fanciest and most expensive suite. But to make sure guests enjoy these to the fullest, HAL staff should probably make sure they’re all in working order … and be on hand to demonstrate more complicated features when guests arrive.

In-Room Dining

As long as you make arrangements with your concierge by noon on the day of your party, Pinnacle Suite and Neptune Suite guests can ask for an array of sandwiches or hot or cold snacks to be prepared and delivered for their guests.

As we did end up meeting some friends this trip, one day we ordered appetizers and beers for four to be delivered by 2:45 p.m. for a 3:00 p.m. get-together. Unfortunately, the delivery came more than a half-hour after our guests arrived.

We ordered this service twice more during our trip. Each of these times, the goodies arrived as scheduled … but the hot appetizers had been carted around long enough to cool down to room temperature.

On the one hand, I understand completely that the late arrival of some cold chicken wings and warm beer ordered by a bunch of over-fed privileged people in a fancy suite is not the stuff of Greek tragedy.

But on the other hand — this was the level of service rendered to the Pinnacle Suite. What if, instead of a bunch of tourists, we had been business people, looking to impress other important clients? The fact that catering didn’t show up until after folks were preparing to leave (or that the food was cold) would be, for some people, embarrassing.

Other in-room dining, including breakfasts delivered to the room, was delivered on time, and even our special orders arrived correctly prepared.

Odd Notes

I don’t think we’ve ever taken a cruise where we didn’t come home in the evening to some kind of towel animal surprise, dimmed lights, and turned-down beds. On this trip, though, no towel animals appeared, and, while our room was refreshed in the evenings (with chocolates left at the foot of our bed), no turn-down service was offered.

In contrast to that lack of attention, we did notice we received an extra degree of attention in the ship’s onboard restaurants. With time, we noticed a pattern: we’d be seated and greeted … and then, in a bit, a supervisor-type would go and whisper in the ear of our server. (Once, I even overheard the supervisor say, “Those are our Pinnacle Suite guests.”) After that, the level of service and attention perked up considerably.

Our Recommendations to HAL

The Pinnacle Suite should deliver on its name, offering guests the “pinnacle” of HAL’s support, technology, and services. Of all the rooms on board, this should be the one that’s double-checked for guest-readiness. Tubs and showers should be cleaned and tested. The technology should work. Service and responsiveness should stun the guests.

If you’re going to tout the fact that Pinnacle guests will be escorted or given special attention … deliver that. If you’ve elected to reduce or back away from that level of service … explain that. By letting guests know up front exactly what level of service they can expect, you’ll reduce the chances that guests will arrive with unrealistic expectations.

And since the room features a number of unfamiliar gadgets — from the lighting controls to the music system — having someone on-hand as guests arrive to explain how these work is probably a good idea. In fact, given that this is the Pinnacle Suite, a room tour by the concierge would be a nice touch … and would give people a chance to ask about the services, features, or amenities they’re curious about.

Our Recommendations to You

We had expected the Pinnacle Suite to deliver an over-the-top experience — to be so pampered that we might think twice about traveling any other way. While we enjoyed having extra space and room to entertain, in the end, we didn’t feel the Pinnacle Suite delivered adequate value for the money — even when booked at a discount price.

Who Should Consider Booking the Pinnacle?

Having four times the space of a standard cabin is a luxurious experience on its own. If you’re a family of four, mom and dad might enjoy being able to seal the kids up in the living room for the night and have a private bedroom all their own. (That said, given the expense associated with the Pinnacle Suite, a family with older children should check and see if their ship is one of HAL’s fleet that offers a Neptune Suite room that connects to a smaller, standard room, as this will offer everyone more privacy for less money.)

If you’re a couple traveling with another couple and considering sharing the Pinnacle Suite, be sure that you’re really, really comfortable with that other couple. (I’d say you should be the kinds of friends who wouldn’t mind seeing each other in your pajamas.) While guests staying in the Murphy bed will have access to the half-bath when the Master Suite is closed off, they will eventually have to access the master bath to bathe and access the closets.

The guest bath — a half bath, just to the right of the entrance to the suite — would make sharing the Pinnacle Suite with family members easier, as it would be accessible without tromping through the master bedroom.

And don’t forget: if there are four people in this suite, two will sleep in the lap of luxury (with a king-size bed and unfettered access to the master bath), while two will be on a Murphy bed in the living room, with less privacy. If you’re splitting the cost of this room, a fifty-fifty split hardly seems fair!

What Should Most People Do?

If, as we did, you can snag the Pinnacle Suite for about the cost of a Neptune Suite … well, why not? (We have the impression, though, that this kind of deal is rare. Most of the time, the Pinnacle costs almost exactly twice what the Neptune Suites go for … or more.)

But especially now that HAL seems to be scaling back on the extra services that once made the Pinnacle Suite so special, the Pinnacle Suite no longer offers the best value for the money.

If you’re a couple who:

  • doesn’t want to share a room with others in your party,
  • sees value in paying for a little extra luxury,
  • would enjoy a slightly higher standard of service, and
  • wants a little extra room for entertaining friends,

we recommend you reserve the Neptune Suite instead. As this comparison chart shows, apart from the extra space and the additional hot tub, the Pinnacle and Neptune Suite packages are virtually identical … and half the price.

I’ve sailed in the Neptune Suites multiple times, and I can now say with great confidence that the Neptune Suites are my favorite rooms on HAL ships. They’re twice the size of a standard room and have a wide, spacious veranda. You’ll still have access to the Neptune Lounge, with its concierge services (nice for snagging dinner reservations or changing shore excursion plans) and free snacks and beverages. (Some people actually make a meal of these — and you could, frankly, given the range and scale of what’s on offer there.) Oh — and if you lack enough sailing status to get free laundry perks, you’ll love the fact that Neptune Suite guests get free laundry and dry cleaning!

If you’re curious about having a luxury experience at sea and want to make the most of your travel investment on a Holland America cruise, resist the allure of the Pinnacle Suite. Snag a Neptune Suite instead.

About the author

Mark McElroy

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