Because our vacation time was limited, the Canada/New England cruise worked well, eliminating the need to travel a long distance (e.g. Europe) to start the cruise. Our meeting point a day before sailing was the Sofitel in Montreal, a 15 minute cab ride to the port.
Embarkation: We arrived at the port about 12:30 p.m. for a 5 p.m. sailing. I had checked in online, although I am not sure how much time that saved during the in-person process. One minor matter was that despite including my nieces (who were in a separate stateroom) on my charge account, there was no record of it. Other than that, embarkation was a breeze.
Staterooms: My mother and I had a deluxe verandah suite which was very spacious with a huge balcony, large bathroom, and separate dressing room. Although the Maasdam has been nicely refurbished, some telltale signs of age remain, such as a broken sliding door on our closet (we called to have it fixed four different times during the week) and an old whirlpool bathtub which did not look inviting to sit in. My nieces were in a verandah suite, a slightly lower category than the deluxe but half the size (although they had a nice balcony). The oceanview rooms appeared to have more inside space than my nieces' stateroom, so if you don't need a balcony, an oceanview might be the way to go. We like a balcony, even in a temperate climate.
A great feature of the deluxe stateroom is the Neptune Lounge which is for the exclusive use of guests in that category. The concierge, Eric, was very helpful in getting reservations, answering questions, and aiding in whatever way we needed. It was also a convenient place for a quick and quiet breakfast or a snack any time of day. Loved the cappuccino machine. We also had exclusive access to the Pinnacle Grill at breakfast time, which is much quieter but has the same basic breakfast menu as the main DR.
Service: The fabulous, very personable cruise director, Anthony Choice, has the uncanny ability to be several places at once. Dining room staff very professional in all the dining venues (more on that later). Stateroom stewards polite and very hardworking. I have to wonder whether the rooms ever really get a deep cleaning between guests, considering how little time they have for the turnover between cruises.
Facilities: There is a movable sunroof over the Lido Deck pool (which was heated), so we were able to use the pool and jacuzzis even though this was not a warm-weather cruise. The gym was clean and well-equipped. We had to use the ship's computer once but the internet was slow, resulting in charges accruing very quickly.
Activities: Too many to even scratch the surface in one week, unless you stay on board at the ports. I managed to fit in one class at the Microsoft workshop; the techspert was knowledgeable and pedagogic, esp. for techno-dunces like me. I also enjoyed the port info talk given by Patrick. Something I've seen on European cruises but lacking here was history lectures about the destinations. Considering that it's the centenary of the Titanic and Halifax has a close association with the tragedy, it would have been interesting.
Entertainment: I enjoyed all the venues and performers, and there was a wide variety -- from piano bar to classical quartet string. The magician/comedian was hilarious. The singers in the main showroom made for a lot of collective talent on the stage. The seats fill up quickly in the showroom, so it was impossible to score a good seat if you didn't go early. The HALcats (who mainly played pop music in the Crow's Nest or on deck) were good, but the "Sing with the HALcats" was embarrassing for both the band and passengers. I thought it would be a sing-along, but it was karaoke with the band, whose singer had a hard time getting anyone to participate. I am not a fan of audience participation events, esp. when most of the audience appears to have stage fright. Maybe it would work with a younger group. The Name-that-tune contest with the DJ was fun, though. All the entertainers were good; too many of them to mention.
Dining: We tried all the possibilities (including the Italian restaurant), but I always enjoyed returning to our table on the upper level of the main DR at the back window facing the ship's wake. Doddie, our waiter, was a doll. The food was what you would expect at a very large banquet and while some passengers complained about slow service, we kept in mind that it's vacation and we were not in a rush. The only disappointment was An Evening at Le Cirque, which is offered once a week in the Grill. While the service and presentation were impeccable, it was not our style of food, which would be best described as French-Asian fusion. It would be helpful if HAL posted a sample menu online so passengers could decide whether to spend the extra $40 per person. The regular Pinnacle Grill menu looked more to our liking, altho' we didn't get around to it. The dessert buffet done on Lido Deck late one night is spectacular, even if you don't plan to eat. Camera is a must!
Ports: Our favorites were Quebec City -- full of history, and Bah Hahbah -- full of Maine charm. I imagine they are both very crowded in the summer. We were in QC on Mother's Day and treated our mother/grandmother to a tour of Old Quebec by horse and buggy, followed by drinks at the Frontenac bar. The only place where we did a bus tour (hop on hop off) was in Charlottetown. A waste of $160 (for four of us). Unless you are not ambulatory, the town is easily walked. There are three different HoHo routes and two of them largely overlap. My conclusion is that the time in Charlottetown and Sydney are best spent away from the towns, admiring the natural beauty of maritime Canada. As a city Halifax is more interesting. The trip to Peggy's Cove is enjoyable and scenic, but I had already gone on a previous visit.
Passengers: Mostly an older demographic, for which HAL deserves its reputation. Many people seemed oblivious of a dress code in the evening, their attire being more suited to dinner at KFC or a trip to KMart than a cruise. On the two formal nights, people were turned out better.
Disembarkation: Very expeditious. Immigration inspection takes place at Bar Harbor, so there was one less hoop to jump through in Boston, which has a very nice terminal and plenty of cabs waiting. One of my nieces had an early flight and had no trouble with early disembarkation.
Overall, the Maasdam is a manageable ship for one week; it didn't take me long to learn my way around. The service was irreproachable on all fronts and there were more than enough ways to stay busy or plenty of spots to relax.