We took only the first segment, Seattle-Hong Kong, of the HAL Amsterdam Grand Cruise which departed Seattle September 21 2012, and debarked in Hong Kong Oct. 20.
We flew Southwest airlines, Oakland>Seattle, and upon landing discovered that one bag had been erroneously sent by Southwest to Los Angeles, where it was discovered on the L>A> bag carousel. Southwest apologized profusely, said the bag could not be returned prior to ship departure, and would be given to the HAL airport people when it arrived, which happened. Southwest gave me a check to buy the missing items that I could recall, and also had the taxi drop us off at the ship. Boarding was easy since everyone else was on the ship. Our cabin was as reserved, dining room table was as requested and our table mates from Canada were good company throughout the cruise.
The ship was excellently maintained, clean and everything worked well: elevators, air conditioning, sound system, etc. We were told that the entire ship's staff on this Grand Cruise had been specifically selected and they were the finest HAL crew my wife and I had ever experienced: the waiters, stewards, supervisors, front desk staff, cruise director ( outstanding) , officers, hotel manager, etc. We had very few unusual requests, but all were met with a smile and done well.
Food: The dining room menu was the best we ever experienced, with frequent offerings of prime rib, lobster, huge amounts of shrimp dishes, superb soups,salads, outstanding desserts. We were pleasantly surprised that the Lido Buffet was equally good, breakfast, lunch & dinner ( if we chose not to go to the dining room, especially on busy Port days). The food was always varied, appeared attractive, and the friendly servers explained unfamiliar dishes for us. Many dishes in the Lido were cooked right there, as the food in the pans was taken by diners. There were several excellent outdoor deck buffets, limited only by the number of deck electrical outlets for cooking. The dessert bar in the Lido always had a great variety, breakfast pastries were superb and varied, and the breads were also quite good. There was an Asian station in the buffet with different Asian dishes at lunch and dinner. There was a sushi station daily at lunch. There was also a Pizza and pasta station daily, which my wife ( pizza fan) says was excellent. The pool deck area had a hamburger and sausage and another pizza counter, all of which were freshly done throughout the day, but hard to compete with the great inside buffet.
Food service: The dining room waiters were efficient, wee eager to substitute another entree if the chosen one was not what you thought it would be. The kitchen chefs provided items not on the menu if requested in advance ( escargot, some other items). The Lido staff rapidly cleared tables, provided ice water and coffee to the tables as needed, helped people carry plates to tables if needed.
Entertainment: The showroom shows were varied. We saw the same HAL musical reviews we had seen on other voyages, since HAL keeps a costly show on stage for about 3 years. The singing and dancing was good, since the shows were familiar to the performers.On other nights,the guest singers, musicians, magicians, were good, generally better than on some other cruises. The movies shown in the Wajang theater were generally poor, films that might be shown on TV. but not in movie theaters. When we were in Japanese ports, HAL showed older Hollywood Japan-themed films from the l960's that although dated were appropriate for the location. There were several musicians who appeared in the top deck bar (Crow's Nest?)who were quite entertaining.
Lectures and enlightenment: In addition to Barbara the port lecturer, the ship also had Mr. Salinger, a well travelled author, who provided much background information about Japan, China, Russia, and the the maritime industry. There was another lectuer wo is a Ph.D. naturalist who provided much information about marine life, Fish in particular, as well as other talks on nature.
On board shopping: Miserable. Limited stock, inflated prices, little variety. Clerks were courteus & helpful, but limited to what management chose to put in the stores.
Tailoring: A Chinese tailor boarded in Japan, measured men & women for shirts, suits,etc., which would be made while we were at sea and delivered in Singapore. We did not get anything.
Ports: This cruise had a full time extremely experienced port lecturer, Barbara, who provided complete information about each Port before we reached it, so that we could use local transportation, walk to nearby scenic areas, and know what to look for on the tours and excursions.
Library and computer area: The librarians were knowledgeable, helpful in finding a book, even if in the off-limits storage area. The computers were slow as they often are, but the computer technician was as helpful as possible considering the incredibly slow computers.
Front desk: More knowledgeable, helpful, courteous than any staff we ever before experienced.
Officers, cruise director: Outstandingly helpful, courteous, honest. Captain kept passengers informed as needed.
Cruise Itinerary: The North Pacific was extremely rough, with huge swells, and much ship motion. A storm prevented us from reaching our first port, Kushiro in Northern Japan, and we sailed very close to the uninhabited Russian Kurile Islands, and into the Sea of Okhotsk before reaching first port of Hakodate.The Captain modified the actual course to avoid as much of the storms as possible.
Excursions: We arranged, months earlier , to take private excursions in every port and cannot report on the Amsterdam Shore excursions.
Piers: In every port, the ship docked as close as possible to the center of town: In Shanghai we were on the edge of the Bund, In Nagasaki downtown and one block from the tram station, in Yokohama ( for Tokyo) we were within a few blocks of a shopping center, and a local (that weekend) German Beer and Harvest Festival. Kobe was similar. In Hong Kong, we were at the Ocean Terminal, two blocks to the Star Ferry or Peninsula Hotel.
Debarkation: efficient, easy. Our luggage was on the pier and we took a taxi to our hotel nearby, since our return flight was the next day. We took an airport bus ( about $10 USD each) from our hotel to the new Hong Kong airport, about 45 mins. drive. That bus picked up passengers at three hotels, put luggage down below , and unloaded us at out airline entry area. There are numerous luggage trolleys outside the entryway to carry bags to the ticket counters.
This was the finest cruise we ever experienced, on any cruise line, and one which future cruises will be compared with. We think the underlying reason is that this was a 'Grand Cruise' which is more costly than regular HAL cruises, and well worth it. The Chef and kitchen staff produced great meals consistently, which proves that "it can be done."