Our Norway and North Cape cruise began in Rotterdam.
As our taxi dropped us off at the pier, we could see papers blowing in the wind. They turned out to be passenger lists with cabin assignments. A passenger gathered many of them and handed them to the HAL agent who was busy stapling bag tags on luggage and writing cabin numbers on tags for those who didn't print theirs at home. She seemed a bit overwhelmed.
After handing in our bags, we entered the terminal to register. Computers broke down and the process was delayed -- for 2-3 hours. HAL came around with water at first, then much later with cookies but lines formed quickly and there was grumbling about how fast the really good ones were taken. The computers started up and eventually we all got on board.
On entering the ship the first thing that caught our attention was that no one handed us a glass of wine. HAL doesn't on embarkation but other lines do, and we missed it oddly enough. We went directly to our well-appointed cabin which had a Jacuzzi, complimentary waters and our bags delivered and placed on the bed. The Noro scare was over. Things seemed more efficient and promising.
We toured the ship - took out a book, had a drink and relaxed before our first fixed seating dinner. The staff was friendly, the ship was spotless and showing little sign of wear. It was very impressive.
The first dinner in the main dining room was surprising -- and not in a good way. In fact the prevailing comments on the cruise, at least with respect to the people we spoke with, were dining room food and service related. In my case, I would say there were only two nights when I would consider dining room food up to scratch -- and that has never happened before. Service was poor from understaffing it seemed, and when evaluation time came I gave dining room an embarrassing 4 out of 9.
What was wrong? Service was slow to the point even the steward asked if we received our courses yet...which we hadn't on more than one occasion. When they were delivered, they were cold. The turkey dinner was almost unrecognizable. In fact all poultry had an odd texture. It seemed steak could not be served to order. One passenger told the steward there was no avocado in her avocado citrus salad. Menu items were unappealing. After 3-4 nights, we didn't look forward to dinner. We were not the only ones.
We ate in the Pinnacle Grill, and once in the Canaletto. We also booked the Le Cirque dinner and Dinner with the Chef. The PG is unchanged, generally good but it can get sloppy. Unless you brought it specifically to their attention, medium well was served well -- really well. Grilled lobster was good but if poached had a fishy taste. The presentation of the Chateaubriand in Le Cirque was uninspired and unworthy of the PG let alone Le Cirque. The Canaletto was a gem. The service and food were delightful with no surcharge. It is easily the best value dining on the ship. I would recommend the PG, but suggest the Dinner with the Chef and Le Cirque be overlooked.
By the way, formal on this ship meant jacket and tie minimum. The Tux was a rare beast. The formal tradition may be sailing into the sunset if this experience is illustrative.
One passenger's refrigerator didn't work, for which she received an onboard credit. Other passengers were receiving wine, chocolates and flowers for other failings, including a noisy cabin. I didn't hear it and neither did the HAL rep who investigated, but compensation followed.
We took no HAL excursions but a story circulated respecting one at the North Cape where the weather turned foul and people had a hair-raising experience on a zodiac. It was said to have been a HAL excursion but I could not confirm. It may have been private. Of those we spoke to who took excursions, the prevailing opinion was they under-delivered. This is not an unusual complaint on any cruise line though. We tendered in Flam where we were eclipsed by the Eclipse, a much larger vessel. It was appropriate to assign the dock to them, but tendering seemed very slow. In Stavanger we had an odd berth at port, which meant a long uphill detour and walk to return to the ship.
The Mariners brunch was unremarkable except for the glasses of champagne that sat at the serving station across from our table. The attendant refused to give us a glass as it was not his responsibility. As the toast commenced, we brought the champagne to the table ourselves as staff stood by. Training seemed a bit spotty there.
We saw Park West Ply their trade, and "gold" sold by the inch. If you need a pen, bring one with you because you may not get one in the new look shops on board. If you are in the market for a Tanzanite ring, you will be in heaven. The internet was slow, expensive and completely down on numerous occasions -- once due to a fleet wide failure.
This was a very good cruise for an enrichment lecturer, given the number of sea days. That program, along with the cruise director staff, was thrown into the dustbin. I always felt the lectures were an important part of the cruise experience.
The ports were wonderful, if you like Norwegian ports and it is hard not to. We were interviewed by Kristiansund radio by a delightful young lady in a pleasant exchange that went on for about 20 minutes. Sailing above the Arctic Circle was fun as we once again encountered the midnight sun. Friends met us in Tromso where I thought to see a lot more celebration of Amundson. If a nation ever had an explorer/hero he was it. Perhaps our visit was too short.
On the last day we looked at our statement which was delivered 2 hours before disembarkation. There was an error on the bill but with no signature required to purchase in the bars, it was difficult to prove. They took the charge off but they admitted no fault. It makes one feel like they are trying to get away with something. I believe a signature should be required for every purchase -- full stop. Business should be conducted in a business like way.
So what to make of it all? The ship is in great shape. The friendly staff works very hard, but often appears under trained and over-whelmed. If the food in the main dining room is representative of the fleet, it is time for the Executive Chef to move on and make way for more aggressive and imaginative talent -- that or give him the budget to do his job. With this, the loss of the cruise director staff, and the loss of enrichment lectures, I fear HAL is suffering from business consultantitis. They are trying to do more with less. The Rotterdam is functioning like a three musician string quartet. The experience is not premium, it is mass market, and it has lost its sparkle. I can't point to one area where I can say HAL service excelled. The ship itself, though, is in terrific shape.
With new and aggressive lines out there, it will be a while before we sail HAL again.