After sailing on other lines, my last five cruises have been with HAL. I probably will try some other lines again in the future, but for the immediate future I feel very comfortable on these ships. I have a Carribean cruise booked for next March and a 14 day Alaska cruise for summer of 2014.
I flew to Montreal from Chicago on Porter Air. I had never used them before but was extremely pleased as I was reminded how air travel used to be. They had nice leather seats with just two on each side of the aisle. They served complimentary snacks and drinks, including beer and wine, and had a wonderful passenger lounge with a business center stocked with new Apple computers. They are basically a Canadian regional airline so they are not in too many American cities. Hopefully they will expand their routes into other markets in the near future.
I stayed at the Novatel Hotel near the airport in Montreal. They have a complimentary shuttle from the airport to the hotel. I booked the hotel on line for one night at a rate of $130.00. The room was large and the hotel had a pool, and a restaurant. It was a contemporary hotel with modern design and very clean and I would stay there again. It is not in an area that is touristy so if you want to be closer to old Montreal or the port I would suggest staying at a hotel closer to town. I took a cab to the port the next morning and it was $40.
Embarkation went fairly smooth. I was in a Neptune Suite so we were given priority in checking in as well as for tenders during the cruise. I had booked a veranda but was offered an upsell to the Suite 48hrs before the cruise due to some cancellations, so it worked out well. The room was larger than the last Neptune suite I was in but the bathroom didn't have the dual sinks and space of the Nieuw Amsterdams'. The veranda was much larger on the Maasam though. Two chaise loungers and a table with four chairs were easily accommodated.
The Maasdam is twenty years old but still in pretty good shape. The great crew and staff more than made up for the few worn areas or dated colors and design of some of the ships interior spaces. The public spaces are basically on the 8th deck. The lido on 11 was really the only other main place people were in numbers.
Food in the dining room was better than previous cruises. The Pinnacle was about the same as was the Canneletto. We had anytime dining which was the best for us since we sometimes had early dinners and sometimes late depending on what we were doing in port that day. There was only one sea day on this cruise. Because of the ports, I had lobster, both whole, tails, and rolls, five of the seven days of the cruise.
The absolute best was at Lobster on the Wharf in Charlotte, with close seconds in Halifax at a little fishing village our driver took us to, and at Bar Harbor on West Street where they served a whole lobster, french fries, cole slaw and blueberry pie for $22.95. Th ship had a lunch one day on the Lido Deck poolside of PEI mussels made over charcoal and allthe side salads and fixings, that was wonderful.
The entertainment consisted of two dancers, a couple of singers, the Hal Cats, Adagio (which is a pianist and violinist). There was a female comedian one night, a male comedian/magician one night, and the last show was the Dancing With The Stars final. All in all, not bad.
Acitivities as usual, with bingo, trivia, happy hour, and a microsoft lab person who gave lessons on such things as working with Windows 8, and how to organize your photos. She was very good and answered everyones questions.
My biggest problem with HAL and probably the other cruise lines as well, is they take all these photos of you on formal night, at the ports, at activities etc, and they display them for you to purchase. People are asked to pay hundreds of dollars for a few prints which is absurd. If they would be a little more reasonable they would sell five times as many photo packages and make twice as much money, by cutting the price by 40-50%. Their bean counters should be able to figure that out.
Getting off the ship in Boston was a breeze. The airport is located downtown and it was only about a $15 cab ride from the port by taxi.
On an odd note, I was originally planning to take the ship from Boston to Montreal but for reasons unknown the airfare from Montreal to Chicago one way was a lot more than from Chicago to Montreal. The airfare to or from Boston to Chicago was the same so I started in Montreal to save a little on transportation cost.
I did meet cruisers who had done this cruise several times in the past. There are so many interesting things to do in these ports was the main reason given by them as to why they repeat the trip.
Quebec was a beautiful city with lots of cultural stops. We went to the top of the Frontenac Hotel, and walked around the city. Stopped in many shops, art galleries, and the old Notre Dame Church. Could easily spend three days there.
Sydney was a little town with a lot of history. Mining and steel was their primary industries but have been closed down and unemployment in the village is about 20%.
Charlotte was a nice town to walk around. The ship docked close enough to walk to the main part of town. Best lobster I had on the trip was at the Lobster on the Wharf right outside of the ships pier. Can eat outside on the wharf or inside.
Halifax is a city of about 400,000 so you need a plan there. There is a Maritime museum about a ten minute walk from the ship that is quite good. I hired a driver that I found out about from other posters on CC as well as reviews from Trip Advisor. Lincoln Town car that we shared with another couple. We got a four hour tour of the entire city as which included a stop at a little fishing village for lunch. Really a great tour without going into tourists traps. Went to the cemetery where we saw the Titanic graves and the driver was very knowledgeable on the history of the area. The info on the Halifax Explosion of 1917 was fascinating. My daughter and her friends are taking this cruise in July and I highly recommend they take this tour. It was not offered through the ship but Paul (the driver) told me he had been contacted by HAL to possibly make his tour a HAL excursion. You know what that means.....price rising!
Bar Harbor was great. Easily a walking village with choice of several different routes. Whale watching, kayaking, Arcadia National Park tours also available. The road across to the park is completely covered by water at high tide so make sure you get back before that happens. Also very good restaurants and hotels. A scenic village that seems to shut down from October to May.
If I had the time I would have done the back to back trip because of all the things to do. These are real good ports to visit and the cruising along the St Lawrence River from Montreal to Quebec is scenic as well.
I highly recommend this voyage.