My spouse and I were on our first transatlantic cruise with HAL on the Nieuw Amsterdam for the Transatlantic farewell and we embarked in Barcelona on October 29th.
Embarking was quick, smooth, a pleasant experience free of hassle that some of our friends told us to expect. Our first day on board was pleasant and the weather was sunny but chilly on our on time departure.
As this was our first cruise with HAL we were not surprised to have high health standards on the first days that we were on board. By high standards I mean having a crew member to hand you hand sanitizers every time you came in and out of the dining room, Lido, theater, etc. and have the Cruise Director, Dave Shea repeatedly asking the guests "to wash your hands" in his inaugural speech when presenting the Captain and crew. What was not told to us while boarding was that the ship was already under a health RED alert as a lot of guests had started their cruise in Venice 7 days earlier.
The first day at sea was just fun discovering all the secrets of the ship and trying to get a sense of all the good written information/promotions that was given to us.
Then after our first port call in Cadiz, Spain we started to look at other guests and realized the age difference... and we are in our early sixties. We realized then that the on-board activities were more directed towards the over 70 crowd than the more active and younger crowd. Please be assured that my comments are not directed to any guests or age group but just realizing a fact. This will definitely cave in for the next cruise selection.
Then after 4 days, right after Lisbon, we were surprised when the health standards were dropped for a while and then came back 3 to 4 days prior to our arrival. We understood there was another major health problem especially when all crew and staff were affected to clean disinfect all chairs, tables, handrails, flower pot, 5 minutes before lunch time in the Lido. We could not sit on the chairs or deposit our plates on the table as there was a soapy mixture left lingering everywhere. During nighttime there were masked crew spraying carpets and walls of all corridors. All spas, pools were shut down and drained until FL.
We were alerted of the "second" red code alert on board by some crew members with whom we had friendly contact and we were waiting for some information from the Captain on the situation. It never came. Never. We "literally" had to get the information out of a Head Housekeeper's mouth after telling her "that it was our right to know what virus was going around" as she was heading a small 3 person crew in disinfecting the room next to ours. Her answer was diplomatic but not reassuring enough as we felt she was not authorized to speak about the matter. We were very much disappointed by the crisis management of these situations which happens often on a cruise ship (as I learned later).
We understand hygiene is very important on board and especially when on a 6 days crossing and confined to the ship. But transparency and communication is key in these situations. Instead of just changing procedure without notice and only reiterating and asking "to wash your hands" an informative memo in each cabin mailbox from the Captain or on board Doctor to acknowledge the virus and explain hygiene procedures would have been good communication to the guests. Not giving any information on the situation was not the right decision by HAL and we were very disappointed by HAL in this situation. I am not sure how other cruise line proceed but hopefully they communicate better to their guests.
The crew, the service (24hrs), the cabin, the food, especially at dinner in the Manhattan, the activities that we attended, the full rest we enjoyed most often on Promenade deck as the Lido deck always had music. The ship and its decor, and the transatlantic crossing were terrific besides those Red Alerts and the not so good evening shows. The Cabana Club was closed all the time and could have been opened without services during the crossing for more guest space in the sun and fresh air instead of sitting there idle...Sometimes company rules should be revised according to the nature of the cruise.
Disembarking was more than crazy as a lot of people did not follow the procedures or lines. One woman said to me "see it as a highway ramp and I am on the ramp and going through". This was a last bugger going out of the ship and no crew were helpful.
All in all a terrific first crossing experience and for our next cruise we will definitely look for a younger crowd and hopefully a bug free ship.....if this can be found.