My husband and I are 4 Star Mariners. We did 3 HAL cruises last year (on the Westerdam, the Noordam and the Niew Amsterdam). This was our 12th HAL cruise and our 3rd time on the Oosterdam. We book HAL because we know that we can expect a certain level of service and amenities. This cruise did NOT live up to those expectations. I am not sure what is going on with HAL but if we experience the same types of things on our next HAL cruise that we have booked for June 1st, then we will start looking for a new cruise line. Here are some examples of why we were disappointed with this cruise.
Room Stewards We always develop good relationships with our room stewards. On this trip they never came and introduced themselves to us and in fact it was several days before we even saw them. Not really sure they were even our room stewards. Often we left out the blue service card at 8:00 AM and at 11:00 AM the room had still not been cleaned.
Dancing in the Ocean Bar We always eat at 8:00 pm and from 7:00 -- 8:00 we have a drink and dance in the Ocean Bar. The Ocean Bar always has its own band, separate from the in-house band the HAL Cats. On this trip the Ocean Bar did not have its own band, instead the HAL Cats tried to cover it. Also on most nights there was no music at all in the Ocean Bar from 7 -- 8. During the first 4-5 days I tried to adjust to what was available, however when the daily program showed dancing from 5-7, we showed up at 6 only to find the band was "on break". They then did not return until 6:40 and did not start playing until 6:45, then of course they quit at 7:00. This was the story of the trip "the band is on break" or no band tonight. Often when they were playing, it was their own music and not anything that you could dance to. After about 5 days of this we just gave up on hoping for dancing and music before dinner. The other issue was that on our prior trips when we went to the Ocean Bar we were always offered a small plate of hors d'oeuvres . On prior trips after about day 4, the Ocean Bar Staff knew us and knee our drinks. On this trip we had to work hard to flag down one of the few waiters to even get a drink and if we were very lucky, we might get some peanuts.
Service in the Crows Nest
Last November we did the Panama Canal on the Westerdam. Starting early on the morning that we entered the locks the Westerdam opened access to the front bow of the ship and on both the bow and in the Crows Nest, they served coffee, tea and had specially baked buns available. They made quite an event of it. On this trip, on the day we were scheduled to cruise the Fjords, there was nothing offered either on the bow or in the Crows Nest. Coffee was available for purchase at the Exploration Cafe, however they only had it staffed with one girl, so the lines were very long and she ran out of food by about 10:00 am. The Crows Nest started getting very busy by about 7:00 am. By 10:00 am the tables were covered with dirty dishes and dirty coffee cups. No one was doing any bussing of the tables. At 10:00 I went to the bar and mentioned that the tables needed to be bussed. They then sent someone over who cleared only my table, but at 11:30 when I left, the other tables were still covered with dirty dishes.
The other incident at the Crows Nest was on March 21st, which was a sea day. At about 11:00 am I bought a coffee at the Explorers Cafe and then sat down in the Crows Nest to drink my coffee and work on a Sudoku puzzle. The Crows Nest was very crowded and I noticed a number of people making faces about the music that was playing, which was very loud RAP MUSIC. I went to the bartender and asked who chose this music and he said that the bridge picks it! I then asked him to notice that the room was full of primarily old people, doing puzzles and reading books. Did he really think that they were interested in hearing RAP! His response was "do you think I should change the music".
On all of our prior HAL cruises, on sea days they have always had an educations speaker and they have always been excellent. We always look forward to attending these presentations, which are on a variety of subjects. This cruise had no speaker! Just another example of cost cutting.
I know that this is a very controversial subject, but this cruise gets the prize for the worst dressed passengers on formal night. My husband brought his tux, and we did dress up, but we felt that dressing up was a joke. Everywhere we went on the ship there we were in tux and formal wear with half of the other passengers in jeans and shorts. Even the cruise director did not have a tux on. I think that if HAL is not going to enforce the dress code, then they just need to abolish formal night completely.
In summary, this cruise was not horrible; there were many things that were excellent, such as the entertainment, the service in the Lido, and dinner in Pinnacle Grill. But overall it did not live up to being a true HAL experience. We were not the only ones that felt this way. We had open seating and we found that many of the HAL frequent sailors were disappointed and that many people trying HAL for the first time had no reason to be impressed.
I am not sure what is going on with HAL, but this cruise eliminated some of the things that made HAL special. I think that they need to examine the cutbacks they are making, or they are going to find themselves losing clients. The shore excursions on this trip alone were $2,200.00, so by the time I come up with the total cost of this trip, if I am disappointed by HAL, I may just be willing to pay the slightly (and only slightly) higher price for a line such as Regent.