Well, we've given it a second try, these HAL cruises booked through Olivia. This is most likely (never say never, eh?) our last cruise with both HAL and Olivia.
We purchased this cruise via a charity auction. The cruise had been donated by Olivia on behalf of HRC and we ended up being the winning bidders.
The good points: Vancouver is the single nicest port we've ever sailed from! What a beautiful city, and fabulous Canada Place port. If you ever have the opportunity to sail from here, do so!
The weather was incredible. It really could not have been better in any port, or in Vancouver. Sun, and a touch of rain (at night) with moderate temperatures for the time of year. Lovely on all counts.
The HAL staff are amazing!! They are ALWAYS cheerful and smiling and so very willing to help. This cruise line has done some incredible training of staff, and it shows. On the extremely rare instance when a staff member is having an off day or moment it shows, but it's very rare. They are the highlight of this cruise and earn every single cent they are paid.
The cleanliness of this ship was remarkable. Although the ship itself is showing wear and some shabbiness there were no unpleasant odors or obvious unclean areas.
The not so great points: The food. It was passable for the most part, inedible once or twice, and the Pinnacle ended up not being worth the extra dollars. The filet mignon we ordered was cooked correctly for mine, but my wife's was burnt crunch on one side. The lobster bisque was odd. Just odd, no other real way to explain it. After a few tastes we gave up. The side dishes of mushrooms were soggy and generally not worth eating; the creamed spinach was boring with little cream flavor; the asparagus was ok. All food was either tepid or downright cold. Not much pleasant about stone cold egg yolk in a poached egg for the morning meal. We ended up dining off ship whenever possible.
Olivia itself. Not sure what happened for this cruise but it was a completely different vibe from our previous Olivia Cruise. Where the focus once was on "Ladies of OLIVIA" with announcements for all activities, and encouragement to attend the activities, reminders, building up of excitement for the commitment ceremony (for those who chose to attend) etc. there was none of that this time. The focus seemed to be clearly on the solos (which is all well and good, but some of us have been in committed relationships for years and like to have "special" things too) and we often felt like we were intruding on a private party.
What's with the male staffers of Olivia being on board? Everyone has a right to a job, but if men are now to be included in the Olivia group, please let us know ahead of time, thanks.
The really not so good: The stateroom was terrible. Yes, terrible. Not "just not ok, " not "could have been better, " downright terrible. If this had been a hotel, we would have checked out. We did think about flying out of a port, but chose to endure. The stateroom was assigned to us, and we had no opportunity to change it. The noise from the engines kept us awake the entire first night. The vibrations from the engines and the thrusters shook the stateroom so badly, personal possessions rattled, and cause us to feel that we were on a perpetual vibration machine. All jokes aside, NOT conducive to sleeping, relaxing or even hearing one another speak (from time to time). We can honestly say that if you are assigned this stateroom, cancel the cruise. Seriously.
Olivia staff and HAL staff both stated there was nothing to do about it as there were no other staterooms to be moved to. Well, that happens from time to time, but it doesn't make the experience any better. The stateroom was also very shabby with uneven flooring (dips in the floor) white and black mildew and mold in the bathroom. The bathroom was stone cold all the time, which necessitated our propping the door open trying to get some heat in there. The stateroom itself was quite chilly too. The condition of this stateroom is one of the primary reasons we'll think very long and hard about booking with Olivia or with HAL again.
The really good: The Bearing Sea Excursion in Ketchikan is worth every cent! Do it!! In Juneau be sure to have crab at Tracy's Crab Shack. Delicious!! Also in Juneau seek out Wild Oven. It's a TINY bakery run by two young women who surely know how to employ their 60 year old sour dough starter!! Really nice bread and huge cookies! In Skagway be sure to visit Broadway Bites and have a cheese and sausage "biscuit" along with a lemon cake (cupcake size) for dessert. They had some very nice mulled cider when we were there too.
So, after all is said and done, no regrets. We refuse to live our lives with regret, but we now consider ourselves a bit wiser with regard to choosing where to spend our very hard earned vacation dollars.