This is my third HAL cruise but my first in Europe, and the experience was similar enough to previous HAL cruises that it definitely felt like a HAL cruise, but it was certainly adjusted for a European audience.
As Americans, my family were definitely in the minority on the ship--I heard there were only 150 Americans. Most of the passengers were Dutch. Although at the beginning of the cruise it was announced that English was the official language on the ship, it seemed more like the Dutch were insistent NOT to have to speak any English at all, which (I'm assuming) made communicating with the crew/staff rather difficult.
We received the same high-quality service that we have come to expect from HAL. I would say the only area in which service didn't live up to our previous experiences was the room stewards. I roomed with my sister (we are both adults) and our parents were next door, and it seemed like our parents received better service than we did. Our room didn't have More
a fruit basket until the third day, and our television never worked (which wasn't too big a deal because we didn't come on the cruise to watch TV all day anyways).
The Rotterdam seemed in fine condition to us, no obvious damage as has been previously noted. (I often wonder if people board ships and search out thing to complain about!) Yes, there is a bit of wear-and-tear in places, but these ships are high-traffic! They stand up quite well to the amount of use, in my opinion.
The ports of Oslo, Kristiansand, Stavanger, and Flam were all truly wonderful. We spent time wandering around each port and really enjoyed towns, sights, foods, and Norwegian people.
Food and drinks are always a high point for our family on any HAL cruise. I'm a vegetarian and I'm never at a loss for options. We enjoyed dinner every evening in the main dining room (fixed seating--I don't know why anyone would risk it with As-You-Wish dining with all the complaints I've seen). Meals were always rich, delicious, and plentiful (although sometimes I felt like the portions were *too* big). As long as I don't have to cook and clean up, I'm happy!
The showroom shows weren't as great as they usually are (according to my parents--my sister and I pretty much skipped them this time around), but the musicians in the lounges were awesome. The music was always great.
Staff and crew were always friendly--even cleaning staff greeting us with a Hello and Good morning/afternoon. We appreciate that. As most of the passengers spoke Dutch (and had a bit of an attitude problem, to be perfectly honest), making friends with fellow passengers was pretty much out of the questions. But as my sister and I are in our late 20s, we met a few of the entertainers and hung out with them in the evenings, which was a lot of fun. They didn't have to hang out with us, but they did and we had a really great time and made some new friends.
If it isn't already obvious, I would say my one real complaint about this cruise was the fellow passengers, which is obviously out of HAL's hands. I'll happily cruise with HAL again in the future, but I'm not sure I'd want to again in Europe if I have to cruise with that many Dutch again. Less
Flam is a nice tiny port. It takes about 5 minutes to walk from the ship to the other side of the "town". The actual town of Flam is up the road a bit, and it's a lovely sight. We took the Flamsbana railway up to a hotel and had a bite to eat there and hiked around a bit. It was a nice trip, but once again marred a bit by the attitudes of the Eastern Europeans. (People smoking at the train station and throwing their butts on the ground, people elbowing to get onto the train--I longed for the queues of the English!)
Back in Flam, we visited the girBryggeri brewery and spent the last of our Kroner. It was expensive (75 Kr for a beer = $12.50 USD!) but the brews were REALLY good and we had a fun time.
We walked around Oslo in the morning, and although the weather was cool and drizzly (much preferable to the heat and drought we've been having here in the US this summer!), we had a nice time. The main drag--Karl Johans gate--is about a 15 minute walk from the pier. The downtown area was nice, but did get busy towards midday.
Our afternoon excursion took us to the Viking Ship Museum, the Kon-Tiki Museum, and the Vigeland Sculpture Park. I enjoyed the two museums, even though they were really busy. The Sculpture Park was incredible, I wish we had more time there to look around.