Embarcation/disembarkation was smooth and trouble free. We were on board before noon at Boston, and were the last group off in Quebec at 9:00AM.
Overall, this is an older ship that is showing some wear and tear. While it is immaculately clean, a major renovation is needed particularly in the cabins.
Cabin was rated as a verandah suite (#131) and was no different in size from a standard verandah cabin. There was a full tub/shower and a single sink in the bathroom and adequate room for toiletries and medicines. The closet space was very spacious with 4 separate sections and plenty of good hangars. The bed seemed larger than a queen but not quite king sized, and was very comfortable. A leather sofa, desk chair and large coffee table provided a seating area. The verandah had a full size lounge chair and 2 sitting chairs, all with padding. There were plenty of glasses available along with the usual small ice bucket. Luggage fit easily under the bed. A hammock has a removable top and can be used as a hamper. The cabin had one drawback, in that it was located over the Queen’s Lounge and music could be heard while the band played. Since they stopped at 11:30 it wasn’t a problem for us but would be for early to bedders.
Open Dining was best used by reserving ahead of time. With a reservation, seating was immediate. Otherwise, waiting time varied from a few minutes to 25-30. Food was very good overall in the MDR. Service was a bit slow and the staff appears overburdened at times. The Pinnacle was excellent as usual. We tried Le Cirque and I was not that impressed as portions were very small and not really worth the difference over the usual Pinnacle surcharge. The Lido was a typical buffet operation which we used only for breakfast and lunch. The food was generally very good and the variety was satisfactory. Overall, the only area that needs improvement are the desserts in the Lido and MDR.
TIP: In the Pinnacle for the surf & turf, they will switch the shrimp for a lobster tail if you ask.
Entertainment was below expectations and not as good as other HAL ships. The production company had a few good voices but the attempts at dancing were below high school show standards, and the attempts at comedy (by the troupe) were so bad that it was painful to watch. A comedian/magician put on a decent show, and two of the singers put on a classics show that was actually excellent. A pianist/violinist duo played nightly and were pleasant. The piano bar had a big following and was the only lively night spot.
Shopping was limited to a few clothing and souvenir areas but had a huge watch and jewelry area.
Other activities were a bit limited, mostly bingo, trivia games, and shopping talks. The timing on these were somewhat odd, such as no movie during the day we were at sea, and many activities during dining hours.
The ports and excursions are what really made this cruise a success. Bar Harbor was a quaint village to walk around and grab a lobster roll at the wharf. We took an Oli’s Trolley ride to Arcadia National Park and the views from the top of Cadillac Mountain were spectacular on a bright sunny day. Thunder Hole was another scenic and fascinating stop on the tour. In Halifax we had a tour to the cemetery where Titanic victims are buried and our guide made this far more interesting than I had expected. We then were driven to Peggy’s Cove where we had adequate time to wander on the rocks and look around the shops. In Sydney our tour was to Baddock to see the Alexander Bell museum that was a first rfate museum and set overlooking beautiful Bras d’or lake. The to and from Baddock was beautiful and made for a fascinating drive. Charlottetown is a good walking town with lots of shops and restaurants. A tour of the island included the Green Gables site (no big deal) and a stop at a beach that was next to cavernous cliffs of red earth that were uniquely beautiful.
Our final port was Quebec where we docked overnight. Our first day was unusually warm and sunny which was perfect for a trip to Montemerency Falls and St Anne’s shrine. The falls were scenic but not impressive if you’ve been to Niagra, The basilica at St Anne’s was incredibly ornate and full of interesting places such as the crutches left by pilgrims or the replica of the Pieta or the intricate mosaic ceilings.
Our booking with HAL included a night at the Chateau Frontenac with transfers. HAL really handled this well. We left the ship at 9:00 and picked up our luggage, boarded the bus and were at the HAL hospitality desk in the lobby by 9:30 where we received our taxi voucher for the next day transfer to the airport. We then picked up our keys at the front desk and were in our room by 9:45. Things could not have gone smoother.
TIP: Join the Fairmount Hotel club (no charge) and get free wi-fi.