We are a family of 4 (parents 40s/50s) and two teens. We had two connecting balcony cabins and this worked well for us. This is our 5th cruise as a family and our second HAL cruise. First, let me say we had a great time. The only issue we had was with the teen club and is described below.
Service -- Always outstanding. Staff was wonderful. We rarely saw our cabin stewards, but everything was immaculate and all requests quickly filled. In addition to our wonderful cabin stewards I have to give a shout out to the bartenders at the Ocean Bar. They either really enjoy their job or they deserve an acting award. They seemed to be always happy, having fun and poured great happy hour drinks. We aren't big drinkers but we did have a drink at happy hour before dinner most evenings. HAL's happy hours have to be one of the best deals at sea.
Ship -- Clean and wonderful. No complaints at all.
Entertainment -- In terms of musician talent and quality, this was probably the best cruise we have had. While we were impressed by the talent, we were disappointed in the overall selection. I can't recall hearing a single song on the ship during the evening that was popular after my high school graduation and we are far from 20 somethings! I like 60s, 70s and earlier music but I don't want that to be my only choice. Every night we walked around after dinner and to us, sorry, the musical selections were dated and repetitive. I made a note of the music I heard after our first formal dinner to give you a flavor -- Evening Show, was a group called Cantare which had the most amazing voices and they were singing "He's not Heavy, He's my Brother" when stopped in; Northern Lights -- "Brickhouse"; Piano Bar "Hang on Sloopy";dancing band was covering a Stevie Wonder song; Adagio (great classical duo by the way) "If I were a Rich Man;" and the guitarist "Black Magic Woman."
Activities -- We enjoyed our time on ship and always had something to do. All 4 of us spent a lot of time reading, exercising and exploring. Although the daily program listed a full day of activities, a large number of them were not the kinds of things we enjoy. We don't watch infomercials or listen to sales pitches at home, and we most certainly don't want to do it on vacation. We thought too many of the activities each day fell into this category -- spa seminars where they pushed products and services, shopping seminars, future cruise itineraries, talks on what to buy in port and where to buy it, art auctions, etc. In addition to outright sales, there were a number of other activites that involved more sales including gambling opportunities (poker tournaments, lotteries, etc.)and drinking (mixed drink classes and various tastings for a fee). When you crossed off the various sales, gambling and drinking activies from the daily program there weren't many activities left. If Holland America just took 25% of the sales presentations and turned them into a more diverse selection of activities I think it would be a big improvement. We did enjoy the cooking classes and trivia, but they usually lasted less than 30 minutes.
Teen Club- Holland America mixes all teens ages 13-17 together. This is too wide of a spread. On the first sea day I went to see if my 13 year old wanted to join us for lunch and the group was watching an R rated movie (Stepbrothers) with a staff member in the room. I walked in during a quick sex scene in the movie and did not feel it was appropriate for younger teens. I spoke to the manager and the movie was supposed to be removed from the club play list.
Food -- We had dinner in Pinnacle twice, Tamarind once, Cannaletto once and the main dining room 3 times, including both formal nights. Pinnacle and Tamarind were wonderful and we would go back in a heartbeat. We wouldn't pay for Cannaletto again. While I really enjoyed my fish dish, both my husband and older son described the chicken cacciatore as "a good crockpot meal or good cafeteria food." Nothing wrong with good cafeteria food but not worth a $10 per person up charge.
We had a mix of breakfasts, lunches and dinners in the main dining room. Most meals were good to very good. One tip is to try the Japenese breakfast. The salmon at breakfast may have been the best fish we had on the ship. I suspect it was cooked to order as it isn't ordered as frequently. In contrast the mahi-mahi at our second formal night was probably the worst entree we had. Dry, and well done you could tell it had been cooked too long before it was served. All of our chicken dishes were very good. Shellfish was mixed. All of it was pre-frozen and some of it was very good and some of it was very watery.
In summary, we will take HAL again for the right itinerary, which for us is one with lots of long port days. For cruises where we will have more time on the ship, we might try a different line in an effort to find something with a different mix of activities or music.