The cruise was a 'back to back' of 7 nights in the Norwegian fjords and 14 nights in the Baltic. One of the attractions was that both legs sailed from Dover, some 3 hours drive from our home. Also, HAL organised parking at Dover for the duration for $1 US. - Note that if you are booking this concession you MUST e-mail HAL and apply for it; it isn't automatically added to your booking.
Dover Port is an efficient and slick organisation. From arrival to parking, porterage of luggage to processing of documentation - they have it well rehearsed and it is an altogether pleasant experience.
Our stateroom was a 'Verandah Suite' -- not a full sized suite, but located on the navigation deck, midships, which was very convenient for most of the ship facilities. The stateroom was clean and adequate in size but some of the furnishings and fixtures were a little careworn.
The ship itself is generally good. We did not endure the plumbing problems that caused issues with some fellow guests. We understand that the Ryndam enters dry dock in November this year and hopefully HAL will take the opportunity to bring the ship up to the standards of other ships in the fleet - like the Noordam.
The main issues we experienced on both legs of the cruise were management and process issues. Booking the Greenhouse Spa for a 7 day thermal suite package became so labyrinthine that we gave up! The staff could neither book 'across' the back to back cruise nor in blocks of less than 7 days as their booking system "Could not cope".
Booking the on board 'speciality' restaurants was equally bizarre. We called Canaletto's for a booking and were told they had only one space the following evening at 9 pm. We called to confirm the next day and the manager said they did not take bookings at 9 pm but we could 'walk-in' at 8pm. When we did there were 34 empty seats and they remained unoccupied throughout our visit. The Pinnacle Grill was similar. We were given the 'only available' booking one evening at 6.30 pm and during our meal from 6.30 to 9 pm the restaurant was less than a third full.
It appeared that the superb Indonesian and Pilipino staff were making the systems work for the hotel management team who seemed to operate the 'don't let the right hand know what the left is doing' philosophy of customer care.
Our cabin steward Agus was superb and never missed a beat. We showed our appreciation in the time honoured way for his excellent service and attention. We were also looked after very well by Mark, Pauline and Ruby in the dining room and bars and by Indra, Randy and Elliott in the main dining room. The 'open' dining in the main dining room was the best service on the ship by far, unfortunately the entrees were sometimes served quite cold -- again a problem of process, not of table service.
The box above states eight ports were visited, however this was actually 12 over both legs. Eidfjord, Alesund; Gerainger and Bergen on the Norway leg and Dover (returned to); Copenhagen, Warnemeunde (excursion to Berlin); Helsinki; St. Petersburg; Tallinn; Stockholm and Visby on the Baltic section.
The only HAL excursion we did was to an 'ice hotel' in Helsinki. Any readers familiar with the Peter Kay "Phoenix Nights" fun theme park episode will understand how crushingly bad this was! Indeed legal proceedings were brought against the proprietors of a similar venture in the UK... http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-dorset-11842396
We joined ALLA tours in St Petersburg as part of a small group organised by a fellow Cruise Critic member. A great two days visiting all the major visitor 'must sees'.
We did not attend any of the shows on board and much of the 'entertainment' was quite average. That said the Peter Nickalls Trio (The Neptunes) in the ocean bar were the best musicians we have heard on any HAL cruise and Darlene the guitarist / singer had a great repertoire.
Disembarkation at Dover was as efficient as the embarkation.
In summary, a great back to back cruise with really amazing ports of call -- Berlin (from Warnemeunde) being the highlight - more than worth the 3 hour journey in either direction from the port. Contact customer services, dining, beverage and stateroom, front office were first class -- hotel management services and processing were chaotic bordering on humorous -- you have to see the funny side in these situations.