We recently got back from our "grand tour" of Europe. This included a 5 night stay in London, followed by a 24 day collectors' cruise of the Med. The group included me, a 48 year old widow, ds16, dd13 and ds who turned 7 on the cruise.
In London, we stayed at the Park Plaza Westminster Bridge which was a great hotel. We had executive lounge privileges which was well worth it. It was walking distance to the London Eye and Waterloo train station. Since there were 4 of us and it's like herding cats to keep them together, we took black cabs everywhere, instead of the underground. There was always at least one black cab waiting outside the hotel, even at 5:30 a.m. when we left for the airport on the last day.
We arrived in Barcelona on July 6, departure day. Our flight arrived at 11:30 a.m. and we went straight to the ship. We have previously sailed Royal Caribbean, Carnival, Princess and Disney with Royal Caribbean being our favourite cruise line, up until now. I was quite apprehensive about HAL for our group. given HAL's reputation as an "old person's cruise line". I am happy to report that I loved HAL in every way. There were plenty of kids for mine to hang out with (in the case of dd13) or to play with in the HAL club (in the case of ds6/7. I never wanted for things to do. I enjoyed the spa, bingo, trivia, cabana club, Explorations Cafe. The food was very good. The desserts were much better than on Royal Caribbean. The trip's itinerary was excellent. We visited 17 unique ports of call, with overnights in Venice and Istanbul. Service on the Nieuw Amsterdam was very good, but not as friendly as on other cruise lines.
Cabin: We had a main deck inside J cabin. Posters on the HAL board had described these cabins as "huge". I chose it for the space, giving up smaller balcony cabins. Well, I wouldn't describe these cabins as huge. Larger than the average balcony cabin, yes. With 4 of us, we had floor space to move around which was good. The pullman came down over the heads of the regular beds, leaving about 20 inches of space for the person sleeping underneath. The regular bed was not against a wall either. This meant it was impossible to sit on the bed comfortably. It was a little claustrophobic at bed time and not conducive to reading or eating room service. The bathroom had just a shower. The shower and the bathroom itself were comfortably larger than other cruise lines I've been on recently (RCCL and Disney). There was plenty of storage. Look for the drawers at the bottom of the beds. The cabin was very conveniently located halfway between the guest services desk and shore excursion desk and the Showroom at Sea. I have booked the same category for our cruise next year. This time, we'll only be 3 people, so there won't be issues with the pullman. If we were 4, I would book a verandah cabin.
Dining: We had early fixed dining. Dinner was at 5:45. We had the same 8 person table for both segments. On our first segment, we did not have tablemates. On the second segment, we had an older couple and a father and daughter join us. There were empty tables around us every night. The number of waitstaff seemed spread thin. Although pleasant, our two waiters did not have time to chat. On our first segment, we were done with dessert by 7 pm. On our second segment, with a new asst waiter, we were often still waiting for dessert at 7:30. The quality of the food was excellent, especially compared to RCCL. The lobster was "real" lobster. The desserts were uniformly excellent.
Club Hal: Located on deck 10 amidships. Club Hal is separated into 2 groups, ages 3-7 and ages 8-12 - called the tween club. There is also programming for the 13-17 year olds. My dd13 went to the first night, made a friend and hung out with her new friend for the rest of the cruise. She didn't go back to the teen club except for the second "first" night where she and her new friend went to see if there were any other friends to be made. DS16 did not go to the teen club. DS6/7 turned 7 on day 4 of the first cruise. The counselors made him a big birthday card. The 3-7 group had a lot of 6 and 7 year old boys in it. The space for the 3-7's was small and arranged like a day care, which wasn't quite appropriate for active elementary aged boys. The staff of Club Hal frequently moved the group to the tween area. DS7 loved the tween area, with its movie theatre and video games.
Cabana Club: We rented a retreat cabana for the whole cruise of 24 days. The weather was often too warm for me to enjoy it. However, it was a great place to take pictures when scenic cruising or in port. The waiters were eager and tried their best, but service was often slow in getting our lunch orders. The cabana menu was quite limited, essentially burgers and wraps. I appreciated the fresh fruit bowl though. The hours of the cabana were somewhat limiting as well, especially with long port days. I would have used the cabana more if the hours extended past 5 pm.
Lido: The layout of the lido was poor. It took forever for the non self service food. The food was very good though. Even though there were plenty of servers, none of them ever delivered a drink to the table. It was typically very crowded at meal times. I tried to avoid the lido whenever possible.
Room Service: Best. chocolate cake. ever.
Greenhouse spa: I got the thermal retreat package. Only used it once, but it was excellent. Next cruise, I'll use this over the cabana club.
Explorations Cafe: This was where the computers were and the IT person. The location of the computers were the best of any ship I've been on. Plenty of computers , books, a coffee shop and an excellent view, what more could anyone ask?
Summary: HAL has won a new cruiser. We booked a 22 nighter on the Eurodam for 2013.