My husband and I travelled on a 37 day repositioning cruise which began in Auckland on March 30 and ended in Seattle on May 5, 2013. Overall, I would give good marks for the cruise. We prefer to take long cruises (rather than a lot of short ones) because we get more for our money on repositioning cruises, which have a lot of sea days and tend to visit places that are not the usual cruise destinations. This was our third such cruise. Visiting many destinations in a short period of time was the reason we took the cruise rather than a land tour, and it worked very nicely--we visited 13 ports (Tauranga, Napier, Wellington, Akaroa/Christchurch, Dundedin, Hobart, Melbourne, Sydney, then on to Noumea (New Caledonia), Suva and Dravuni Island (Fiji), Samoa and American Samoa, Kauai, Honolulu, and Vancouver).
The characteristics of the passengers tended to match the type of cruise. Those on the lengthy itinerary tended to be retired, and there were few childen on board. The educational lectures were given almost daily on the Sydney to Vancouver leg, and they were uniformly informative and excellent. On the shorter 14 day itinerary (Auckland to Sydney), the passengers were livelier and louder, and it was difficult to find tables in the Lido for breakfast. On the one day cruise from Vancouver to Seattle, the crowd was boistrous, young, noisy and boozed up. The Vista Dining Room, which was a fairly sedate and quiet place to dine on the longer cruise, was one loud and raucous buzz during dinner time on that final night.
The food was fine, but on some days, we had trouble identifying anything that appealed. Fortunately, they do have available alternatives, such as a strip steak or salmon, and my husband must have had the French onion soup at least 20 times. We ate dinner in the Lido on one occasion, and I would never go back. We also had dinner once in the Pinnacle Grill, which was excellent. It would easily cost $200 ashore, but we paid $37.50 (as 3 star Mariners). The 3-flavored creme brulee was to die for. Breakfast in the Vista Dining Room is very nice (compared to the mob scene in the Lido), but the menu is quite limited and there can be a long wait for the food.
The ship is 10 years old, and to my knowledge, has never been renovated. Now would be a good time. Our cabin was ok, but there were obvious signs of wear and tear, from the fairly threadbare sofa to the gouges in the bathtub, to the balcony door that was hard to unlock. We also noticed that the number of stewards seemed to have decreased. In the past, we could count on our rooms being done after returning from breakfast, but on this trip, it was not unusual to have to wait until 1 pm before the room was cleaned, even when we set out a "service please" sign. Each steward has to clean about 16 rooms, which is too heavy a load. I think 800 staffers for a ship that holds 2,000 passengers is too tight a staff/service ratio, and it shows. HAL needs to reverse some of its cutbacks.
The entertainment was below par. The HAL dancers and singers did something like 2 1/2 shows, and one of them (Garage Band) was performed 3 times. The stage is not sufficiently large (I don't think) to cover a large production show, so most of the entertainment consisted of solo acts (singers, comedians, magicians) who were backed up by an overworked group of very professional ship musicians.
Fitness and spa personnel provided a lot of talks which gave the initial appearance of being educational, but which were really sales pitches aimed at getting attendees to fork out funds for questionable and expensive treatments. The one I found the most objectionable was on "detoxing", where they spoke about their detox program consisting of algae capsules at "only" $200 a month. How they were to "monitor" the customer once they got off the ship was never mentioned. The spa pitch included ionithermie, which, for only $155 a pop (plus tip) will take 1-8 inches off your stomach. What they don't tell you is that they measure 5 different places, and take the difference between the "before" and "after". The high pressure sales pitch for products is very annoying. HAL will say this spa (Greenhouse, which I visited long ago, when they didn't do this kind of treatment) is only a contractor, but their practices certainly don't place HAL in a favorable light.
One thing that did happen (probably a good thing) is that I drank very little coffee on the ship. The coffee was just atrocious. The water, however, is very good.
One final note -- I really appreciate that HAL (despite the criticisms) is that treats returning passengers well. We were invited to two Mariners brunches, where the meal was several cuts above what was normally served in the dining room. They also had a cocktail party with generous servings of wine and other drinks.