I'm submitting my review in the same format and order as the HAL survey normally requested near the end of every cruise. I find these redundant and refuse to submit them. I realize the cruise lines need this feedback to gauge the pulse of the cruise experience they provide. However, there is no immediate upside for we the passengers, nor do we have any feedback from them on how they disseminate and act on our complaints or compliments. I haven't noticed any great leaps forward in service in this industry, and hear the same complaints voiced years ago. So where are the great strides, and who is listening? My attitude is, "if you screw up, you'll hear from me pronto, if you don't, then I probably had a good time; time and re-booking with you will tell". My message to the cruise lines is, "If you want to know how my experience went, read about it here".
Having said all this, I will admit to being a former owner of a successful travel agency in the past, having sold and been on many cruises across the wide spectrum of choices available to the consumer, from the low budget all the way to the high end products.
PRE-AMBLE: Our cruise begins at the pier. Being from Vancouver, we debated using our car to get us to the ship. We read somewhere, if not here, that the 7-day parking fee at Canada Place was $69. Well it was $98. Fortunately I forgot my two tux shirts at home, so I returned to get them and had my son drive us back. Of course it would be another story altogether if we were from out of town, like Seattle for instance. The check-in and boarding procedures were a breeze. There is a sign in the drop-off area stating that tipping is not necessary. The longshoremen there were polite, and very helpful. Much better than other cities like Miami where a no tipping gesture guarantees you a dirty look, an insult, and could ultimately be bad news for your precious luggage.
The line-up for check-in was short and fast. We were onboard in about twenty minutes, again unlike other ports we've been at that stretched this ordeal into two hours at times.
FOOD: We experienced the Vista Dining Room, the Lido and the Pinnacles. I sometimes fear the grandiose dining rooms and the experience there may be an endangered species. On this cruise anyway, the Lido seemed more popular, and I'm sure the cruise lines are taking notice. The upper level was not used on this itinerary even though the ship was sold out. Tuxedos and formal dresses are seen mostly on the over fifty crowd (like me), and even semi-formal nights are not that popular. The Lido seems to be thriving as a result. I personally avoid the Lido except for snacking. I much prefer the ambiance, the attentive service and the food quality in the dining room. We tried the Pinnacles Restaurant, and were totally blown away by the quality, the service, the decor and even the plates were designer Bvlgari; so much so that we booked a second dinner. Had we tried it on the first night, we probably would have booked every night in there. Three inch high Fillet Mignons, 22-ounce Porterhouse steaks, the best Lamb Chops bar none, and more. The hors d'oeuvres, and the desserts (great Ben & Jerry baked Alaska) were top shelf to say nothing of the wine selections. At $20 per person (for now anyway), this dining experience will probably displace the main dining rooms. I don't care if they raise the price to $50, it would still be a fantastic value.
SERVICES: Our Cabin Steward was great. He learned our habits very quickly and adapted his service to them. Likewise, our Dining Room steward, or all of them for that matter, as breakfast and lunch were open seating. My wife wanted a more intimate seating arrangement after our first dinner onboard, so we requested a change on that night and were given a table for two (122), which was mostly hidden from view and made the experience more private. In the past, I always preferred large tables, but this new lady likes it the other way. The Lido Deck Stewards were OK, I guess; they looked bored most of the time. Again this venue was not our cup of tea. We only used a lounge barman once on 007 martini night, so we can't comment too much there, except to say the drink put my partner in a very good mood. The shipboard stores staff were rather dry in our contacts with them, and certainly did not motivate us to spend as much I we could have. From the accents I heard, they sounded East European for the most part, and didn't seem to enjoy what they were doing. The same could be said for the Casino staff. We left behind $500 in their slot machines and they were as expected, rigged in favor of the house. Being at sea in unregulated environment, Cruiseship Casinos are pretty well left to their own devices. At the photo shop, we found as we did previously that one photographer seems to stand out above the rest, so we mostly purchased his work. We did not make use of the Spa, Wine Steward or the shore excursion staff, nor the laundry services. HAL would do well to provide laundry machines as they do on most of their ships. As mentioned in other reviews, this ship is based on the Carnival model, and it does not quite feel like the traditional HAL experience on many levels.
ENTERTAINMENT & ACTIVITIES: The showtime staff were very good as well as the solo entertainers. I've read where Princess and others have superior shows. I beg to differ there as cruise lines use talent agencies out of NY & LAX, and they pretty well work to the same tableau, and vary the menu according to the market they are serving. Excellent marks here. The Night Club DJ looked kinda bored as DJs frequently do on HAL ships. Not much to do with the majority of this crowd.
CRUISE STAFF: As with most ships, the staff is helpful, "if you need to make use of them". We didn't.
FACILITIES: Our cabin was well appointed, and clean. The bathtub was in need of some unplugging, and I did a little bit of it rather than wait for the burly boys to remove lots of gray hairs. The mattresses are OK, but they are a little bit oversized. As a result some of the wall switches at the head of the bed are harder to find. Their ships were designed for thinner mattresses and the fixtures placed to suit. Took a little getting used to. The old mattresses worked fine IMHO, but some folks seem to be quite impressed, so all the power to the. The closet space was adequate, the safety box easy to use, but the couch, chair and coffee table tended to crowd the corner they were in.
PORTS OF CALL: What can I say here? Been there, done that and as a result hung around they ship while in port. Juneau, Skagway, Ketchikan are just gateways to spending serious dough flying up to the glaciers, so they were not on my To-Do list. The Glacier Bay experience was a little disappointing. Many of the glaciers have retreated so much that we are seeing a lot more black ice, than blue as in previous years. Chalk that one up to global warming.
CONCLUSION: Will I sail with HAL again: Yes, but on their more traditional ships.