We were on the December 5, 2012 Panama Canal cruise.I booked the a category FF for this cruise through HAL last summer. When the price dropped, I asked for and received a price adjustment. Two days after I made the final payment, the price dropped on higher-category cabins to $300 pp below what I had paid. When I called and requested an adjustment or shipboard credit, I was offered a Veranda for an additional $599 pp as the only option. After much discussion, they offered me an full ocean view guaranteed cabin for an upgrade - I took it. Just before we sailed, we were assigned a C category cabin, which is on the Promenade deck, with views of the lower part of the lifeboats, ship's railings, deck chairs and other passengers - not exactly a full ocean view. After much arguing and two calls, we were given a D category with a true full ocean view.
We were notified before going to the dock that boarding would be delayed due to the Norovirus and special cleaning of the ship. When we arrived at the dock, we were given a letter offering us the chance to cancel the cruise if we so desired. We were committed to sail and looking forward to the cruise, so we declined the offer.
Our cabin was very nice, but wasn't fully stocked with items until day 7. Our bon voyage gifts did not all arrive until day 2. We had to ask our cabin attendant for our bathrobes, replacement soap, replacement bath gel, washcloths, and ice. The only way to contact him was by dialing 90, which was rarely answered. We got his card with his name on it on day 10.
The self-service laundries were closed until day 15. When we inquired about the ship's laundry, we were told to use the bag in our cabin, which was not there, so they gave us one and told us it would be $20/bag. After much arguing, we got it down to $5/bag, but found out later that if we had argued longer than that, it would have been free (per some fellow cruisers).
Smoking rules were not enforced; not were the rules about no non-toilet trained children in the swimming pools. We were in a "Code Red" and babies who could not even walk yet were taken into the Seaview pool by their parents for several days without even swim diapers on (which were also banned from being in the pools). There were also two children on board who were totally out of control and their behavior ignored by their parents. They ran through the formal dining room shrieking many nights; climbed in the windows of the dining room; ran around the tables eating with their hands, and pretty much disturbed anyone unfortunate enough to be seated near them. That was us one night, and I had to ask to be moved in the middle of our meal due to the noise from those kids. They also appeared at almost every 10pm show in the theater, again running throughout the theater and shrieking. I never saw one crew member or maitre d' say anything to that family. When we were at the Atlantis hotel in Reno, there were some children acting similarly in the buffet - in no time, the manager was there telling the parents to control their kids or leave the restaurant. HAL has published rules about what will not be tolerated on their ships - smoking outside of designated areas, babies in pools, and disruptive guests, to name a few - they need to either enforce them or revise them to lower the expectations of their passengers.
I have never been on a ship that ran out of food. The Amsterdam did. In the buffet with 1 1/2 hours left to serve, they ran out of potato chips, tomatoes and olives, and were unable/unwilling to replenish the supply. Oh the last formal night, they ran out of the featured Surf and Turf, and it took us 2 1/2 hours to have dinner. At least that got us out at 10:30pm, too late to attend the 10pm show and have to listen to the screaming kids. With Room Service, we rarely got all the items we ordered, and once got 2 carafes of coffee, but only one cup.
They had the same five groups of musicians for the 17 night cruise, playing the same music every night. On other cruise lines, we usually get a variety of musicians cycled in. The "Sail-Away" parties on the aft deck were a joke. The single guitar player played riffs and improvised pieces at every Sail-Away - the music in no way reflected either the cruise or the port we had just left. It was not conducive to a party atmosphere. Very few drinks were offered or ordered. Actually, that was true most days on the aft pool deck - not many waiters available for drinks or people asking for them. People were going into the buffet and bringing out their own water or iced tea, unfortunately in real glass, so there was a bit of breakage out by the pool with all those bare feet around.
The entertainment in the theater was marginal. One performer, a pianist, brought out a blow-up doll to dance with while he jiggled her buttocks and bounced her breasts-pretty cheesy. Another performer balanced a flower on his chin. And they each performed more than one night! Anyway, you get the picture, not really first-rate entertainment.
The Art auction emcee gave an informative talk early in the cruise to explain the different styles of art available, to give us a brief history of his life, to introduce us to his assistant, and also to let us know that he was sleeping with her - too much information!
Overall, the food in the dining room was good, nothing special. The first week the food in the buffet was not very warm and the pork and chicken was dry and tough. Some of the beef in the dining room was very tough, but seemed to improve later in the cruise (maybe they took on a new supply?).
I think the Code Red for so many days really put an extra stress on the crew and prevented them from performing as they would have liked. If extra crew were not brought on board, perhaps they should have been. A cabin steward on our deck told me that he was responsible for 30 cabins, which seemed a little high to me, but I don't know what the average is industry-wide.
Also, if you sail into Port Everglades, Fort Lauderdale, be prepared for incredibly long waits at the taxi stand. We waited 1 3/4 hours for a cab, and we started out #4 in line!! By the time we left, there were maybe 150+ people in line. Everglades needs to fix their transportation issues when 7-8 ships come in at once. Our cabbie said that this is a common occurrence. They did call for larger shuttles to take people to the airport - that took the pressure off the taxis, but we still had a long wait to get to our hotel.
Anyway, we love NCL and Princess, and only booked HAL because of the ports they visited on this cruise (and the ports were lovely!) and because some of my cruising friends raved over HAL. I guess either different strokes OR we just hit an unbelievably poor coming together of many problems on the Amsterdam.
Good Luck if you decide to sail with her. I hope your experience proves to be better than ours.