We have taken Mediterranean cruises before, but have never been to Spain or Portugal so were looking for an itinerary that focused on these countries. HAL's 14 day Spain and Portugal Explorer itinerary seemed perfect.
Arrival: We arrived very early in the morning in Rotterdam on Sep 15 after an overnight flight from Canada. The port was chaotic and nobody seemed to know where we needed or could go simply to wait it out until they were ready for us to board. We were sent to a restaurant 2 blocks away that was closed and had to come back, all the while with luggage in tow. The embarkation was also chaotic and disorganized once they did start boarding.
Itinerary Change: The first day (at sea), the Captain announced there was a pilot's strike in Portugal and that they were monitoring the situation. It ended up that HAL canceled all 3 ports in Portugal as a result of the strike and replaced them with Alicante (Spain), Palma de Mallorca (Spain) and Cherbourg More
(France). This was an extreme disappointment as none of these ports interested us. The first 2 have a reputation as beach centric college kid party towns and I had never heard of Cherbourg but it seemed to be close to Mont St-Michel yet they didn't offer an excursion there and later I was told there wasn't enough time to get there and back before the ship's 2PM departure. HAL offered nothing to passengers for compensation to this. They gave us a complimentary glass of champagne at dinner one night. I don't drink so this was not appreciated. The change in itinerary also meant initially that we would not have the opportunity to see the Alhambra, one of the highlights of this cruise. They subsequently changed their minds about this, but we ended up having to get up at 4AM if we wanted to have breakfast and departed at 6AM for Grenada. Again, no apology or compensation was offered and the same outrageously high price of $195 per person still applied for the tour.
Reservations Lost: We had booked the open seating dining this cruise as the early seating (our preference) was no longer available. This gave me the opportunity to make reservations online before joining the cruise. Since we had already decided which tours we were going to take and knew our itinerary more or less, I went ahead and booked dining reservations online and requested a table for 2 each night of the cruise. The first night we arrived, the dining room host (Robi) told me HAL has no such thing as an online dining reservation system, my reservations were never received, and I would have to wait at least an hour before he could seat me as the dining room was full. Well, I could clearly see many empty tables in the dining room to start with so I knew this last part was a lie. He also told me that reservations for dining do not necessarily mean a table will be available. What does a reservation mean then?? I still have not figured out what HAL's dining reservations actually mean since each time I made a dining reservation after this we were told there was no guarantee a table would be available despite having it. The host was quite rude and gave us a beeper that apparently would go off when a table was ready. We went to the customer service desk and complained to them about the lost reservations and I asked to speak with someone in charge of the dining room. We had a table within about 5-10 minutes after this. From this point forward, we did not have trouble with dining reservations.
Toxic Fumes: The last 2 days (At Sea & Cherbourg France) of the cruise, our cabin filled with toxic fumes that smelled a bit like fuel exhaust or paint thinner or both. This seemed to happen both days around mid-afternoon. We complained to customer service both times. The first day, they took it very lightly saying they would use some sort of ozone machine to remove the air from the cabin. This didn't sound like a good explanation of whatever was done, however it seemed to get rid of the smell. The second day, the manager Jo Jo Flores took the matter slightly more seriously and offered us a free coffee drink as compensation, however this was fairly pitiful given that our cabin was completely unlivable for probably close to 8 hours (both days combined). I was very nervous this might happen while we were sleeping since nobody could offer any explanation as to the cause of the fumes. While on the subject of cabins, it's important to note that Rotterdam's inside cabins do not have a mini bar or fridge. While this didn't matter to me, some guests needing to refrigerate medications or other items may want to consider another cabin type.
What I liked: This review is focused on areas that HAL needs to improve upon, however we did enjoy a few things about the Rotterdam experience. The spacious (170 sq feet) inside cabin was nice. The bathrobes provided were comfortable and roomy. The complimentary toiletries were decent quality and the room steward's service was excellent. King crab legs are also offered on the menu in the dining room one evening which I enjoyed and have not seen on other cruise lines. The shore excursions was overpriced as they typically are with cruises, but the quality was good and the guides were quite knowledgeable and friendly. I'm not sure if we'll book HAL again or not as the overall experience was not great. Less