Just returned from another Bermuda cruise on HAL, Aug 5-12. The last time we went to Bermuda was in 2010 on the Veendam, in a lanai stateroom, and spent the extra dollars this year to again reserve a lanai stateroom. LOVED it again.
We traveled from Boston to NYC on the Fung Wah bus lines ($30 pp for round trip!!) and then a $20 taxi ride to the port at Manhattan. Got rid of our baggage at the sidewalk and proceeded to check in. Mentioned to the HAL employee doing our check in procedure that although we'd been married 8 yrs, this was really our long-overdue honeymoon as it is the first vacation, let along cruise, that my parents haven't accompanied us. We then were surprised to find ourselves ushered into the VIP waiting lounge and we boarded the ship within minutes. Thanks HAL for that unexpected little bonus at the start!!
As soon as we were on board, we went upstairs to the Lido and made reservations for 6 nights at the Canaletto. We'd heard that while the food was good in the main dining room, that service was slow and we didn't want to take 3 hours a night for dinner. This turned out to be a great decision. We ate the first night at Pinnacle Grill and thereafter at Canaletto. The food and the service were great at both locations. One night, we asked to bring another couple with us to dinner at the Canaletto and this request was honored without problem. Another night (last dinner, boohoo!) I felt a little seasick and my husband cancelled our reservation and ate alone at the Lido (lamb chops, he said, which were delicious). The manager very graciously offered to have my dinner sent to my stateroom. Now that's service. I believe that early reservations for dining in the Canaletto (which immediately booked solid) should be something reserved for cruisers who reserve their fares early. A nice little bonus for those of us who make early reservations and perhaps pay more for our fares. Why shouldn't we get first crack at the Canaletto reservations?
Having written a review of this exact same cruise in 2010, I feel I can compare the HAL experience with some credibility.
Let me start with the perhaps off-putting belief: If you are TRULY a "foodie," you don't go on cruises. Cruise dining halls simply can never really compete with a three star Michelin restaurant. The produce and veggies on a ship can at times be a week old by necessity, and of course, all the meats are frozen. So, my belief? People that claim to be foodies and then complain about the quality of the meals on board cruise ships are PSEUDOSNOBS. Again, if you really want high-quality meals, why go on a ship which you know is going to have to produce 4200 meals a day (1400 passengers, three meals a day equals 4200 meals) in a VERY limited time and with limited personnel???
So my review of the meals begins with this premise: I like eating on cruise ships because I get to eat a lot of meals that I would never prepare at home, I don't have to do the cooking, and I don't have to do any of the clean-up. I am aware that the meals will tend to appeal to the average, and within that range, I find HAL to be consistently good. Point in case, their guacamole. Coming from Maine, avocados are expensive and rarely ripe. For lunch, whenever I was on board, I ate ONLY the guacamole and chips. The guacamole was FABULOUS! Rich, creamy and spicy enough to leave a zing that required liquid refreshment(the MOJITOS were PERFECT for this!!) Another case in point, the balsamic vinaigrette in the Canaletto was a meal unto itself with the bread and olive oil served before the meal. Again, absolutely DELICIOUS!! On the other hand, the minestrone soup was a little bland. Would my homemade minestrone have had more spice? Sure, but then, I didn't have to simmer stock for three hours in the kitchen. Instead, I snorkeled all day!
We ate the first night at the Pinnacle Grill. Had my regular order, steak Diane, which was delicious. Also, the lemongrass chicken soup is NOT to be missed!! My only regret about food on the Veendam? They don't have a Tamarind Restaurant. We cruised in April on the Eurodam, and would have loved to have eaten at the Tamarind if there was one on the Veendam. Would have happily paid extra for this. However, the Pinnacle Grill remains an excellent restaurant with great service for people who like a delicious, tender steak.
STATEROOMS: Our stateroom and our cabin stewards were great. I love the lanai-class of stateroom, each of which comes with reserved teak loungers. Only had one group of persons who groused about being asked to relocated out of our loungers when we came out of our stateroom to eat lunch watching the Atlantic roll past. The lanai staterooms are shaded by the lifeboats, and as it was hot, the shade and ocean breeze were perfect. Our stewards kept our room clean, stocked with ice and wineglasses and champagne glasses and were completely unobtrusive. The only problem was the air conditioning struggled at times to keep up with the hot Bermuda nights.
ENTERTAINMENT: I return to my point about PSEUDOSNOBS here. Entertainers on board cruise ships sleep in bunk beds two to a cabin. So, ask yourselves, honestly, if the best entertainers in the business are beating a path to the cruise lines to perform on rolling stages for cruisers. I think not. Again, once you accept that you will get good, but not necessarily the top quality, performers, you come to appreciate the job they do for us on these ships. Having said that, we went to only one show as the Bermuda heat, and our swimming and snorkeling really tired us out. It was a group of four men singing a bunch of golden oldies. They were very good and I enjoyed the show.
Our other entertainment was David Anthony in the MIX bar. He had quite the engaging patter and ended up with a bar full of regulars (including us) for the entire cruise. He was excellent. I recommend you take in his show if you see him on a cruise. We will look for him again. By the way, the MIX was a great bar, we got to know all the people there and the waiters, especially Edward, were fabulous.
Bermuda itself remains timeless. The buses run on time as do the ferries. Everything is clean and pretty. Nobody hassles you to buy cheap trinkets. The beaches are breathtakingly beautiful and the water is perfectly blue and ALWAYS the perfect temperature. On the last morning in Bermuda we took the 7:20 bus to Horseshoe Bay and were two of only five people on the entire beach. We body surfed for two hours without stopping and finally grabbed a bus back at 10 am to be back on board the ship for 12 pm departure. We watched from the top deck in disbelief as people leisurely made their way back to the boat as late as 12:40 pm. I understand 10 people were stranded on Bermuda the previous week. There were at least that many who should have been stranded this time, but a nice Captain apparently held the boat for them.
KIDS on the boat: I read on Facebook that an experienced HAL cruiser complained about the 300 kids on this same cruise that we were on. I must say I saw the kids around and they were never a problem. There ARE cruise lines that don't permit children. Of course, you have to pay for that privilege.
DISEMBARKMENT: We independently disembarked with our luggage to catch the bus back to Boston. Effortlessly.
FINAL THOUGHTS: My only regret about this trip was that it was over too soon and that word has it that HAL will not be returning to Bermuda next summer. Alas. Not sure if we will go back to Bermuda on NCL or not. Did that twice, and while each cruise is what you make of it, we definitely feel HAL was a better experience than NCL.
Overall, I did not see or experience any of the cutbacks in services or qualities on HAL that other cruisers have mentioned. I suggest that discontented cruisers go to page 82 of Helene Hanff's "The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street" (Moyer Bell edition, published 1995) as you might find her observations of the dissatisfied diners at the elite Hilton dining room quite apropos.
I continue as always to come back from my cruise saying "this was the BEST time ever!"