We have just returned from our Volendam cruise from Hong Kong to Kobe.
Firstly, the company is let down by poor administration. Questions emailed to HAL in both the US and Australia were sometimes responded to in very vague terms, or were ignored altogether. A requested "Roll Call" meeting was not advertised on the relevant web page until several days before departure, consequently its existence was unknown to most of the 40+ registered users. This was very disappointing.
There was a late change to embarkation dock in Hong Kong, identified on page 1 of the check-in documentation, but on page 3, the previous dock was identified. Whilst acknowledging that the change of embarkation port is beyond the control of HAL, they could have been a little more helpful to their customers on how to find the dock. Many of the passengers reported that their taxi drivers did not know where to find the right port entrance and indeed our own went through three different port gates before finding the right one. Otherwise, embarkation and disembarkation went smoothly and with little wait.
Our cabin was ready by midday. On entering the cabin, it smelt very stale. It took some days to track down the cause of the odour as the pillows. They really needed washing or replacing and the smell could not be disguised by fresh linen. The WC in our cabin was not functioning properly and a plumber had to be called on the first day, and again several days later as the problem was not fixed properly the first time. The ship underwent some refurbishment recently. Curtains and cushion covers in the cabins have been replaced. Some resealing around the bath had taken place. Otherwise, the ship is showing its age somewhat.
As an on-board video explained, it is important to think carefully about the location of your chosen cabin, particularly in relations to its proximity to the laundry (lots of passing traffic), proximity to lifts and stairwells (if walking long distances on board is not what you want). In our case it was a location underneath the galley of the Dining Room. The clanging and banging above our heads, late at night and very early each morning was unwelcome. Like a previous reviewer, we do not understand why HAL does not warn people about this. It is a far more important consideration than knowing whether your sea view is partly blocked - something they do tell you about, and adjust the fare appropriately.
The crew, as usual, are extremely polite and helpful. Meals in the Rotterdam Dining Room and the Lido were generally good, with a wide variety. The standard appears to have dropped slightly from previous cruises. Stewards occasionally got meal orders muddled and there were occasional other issues in the Rotterdam Dining Room, but nothing major. The introduction of a fee for "special" coffees in the Rotterdam Dining Room (such as an espresso) was diappointing. The Pinnacle Grill experience was excellent. Afternoon teas in the Rotterdam Dining Room were very good.
The entertainment was "so-so". Some acts were very good, some downright awful. Movies seemed often to shown at puzzling times so that it was very difficult to complete dinner in time to go, or to get any dinner after the show! Craft activities were infrequent, but Microsoft lectures were held daily. There was a daily "happy hour" in the Crow's Nest, and wine tastings for a modest fee.
Shore excursions were expensive and many passengers had made their own arrangements for excursions, especially in Xingang (for Beijing) at a fraction of the cost. Information on ports of call was limited. Maps were generally not helpful, especially when asking locals for assistance, as maps made no sense to them whatsoever! There was a great encouragement, on the part of HAL, to take shore excursions rather than risk getting lost/not seeing the right sites/not getting back to the ship on time. Tourist authorities in Pusan and Nagasaki met the ship and provided helpful advice, maps etc. Free shuttle buses were provided in some ports. It would be so much more helpful if that information was made available prior to embarkation, since some passengers will always want to do their own exploring.
The repeated reminders of the wonderfulness of the crew, the fabulousness of the cruise and the importance of the hotel service charge became irritating. If the crew rely on the distribution of this optional service charge, in order to draw a reasonable wage, then it would be preferable for HAL to pay them a respectable wage, and raise their fares accordingly.