DH and I have cruised more than 10 times and have been on many different cruise lines, with RCCL being our favorite. We found a great price and itinerary that we were wanting to try and thought why not try HAL. We knew it was going to be a smaller ship than we have been on, and that it was a more "mature" group of cruisers that would be on this ship.
We flew from Chicago into Montreal, took the Montreal Bus for $9 each to the front steps of our hotel. We stayed at the Candlewood Suites in Centreville, near Vieux Montreal. Price was good, location was great for walking down to the Old Montreal section of town. The room was small, but everyone was very friendly and it was perfect for our one day stay. The front desk was more than happy to call us a cab on Saturday morning and it cost only $8 for a trip to the port.
If you go to Montreal, take a day or two to explore the old part of the city. It was one of our top places that we go to visit on this trip. Well worth the time. Ate at a little outdoor cafe Le Grange Gourmand, which was delicious while we listened to the guitar player/singer that was performing in the street. Took a carriage ride for $48 for a half hour, which was informative and delightful, well worth the money. Everyone in town was very nice and the language wasn't not a barrier, even for our waitress who had limited English but was able to communicate with my little French. US dollars are accepted everywhere on this trip.
Embarkation was a breeze. We always try to go early, so arrived at the port at 10:30 a.m. We were dropped off at the door, where our luggage was quickly taken, we didn't have to lift a finger. It was great! Check in was a breeze, but then we did need to sit for a half hour until the ship was ready, which we knew might happen with our early arrival. No problems, although some of our senior shipmates were growing impatient with that wait.
Once on board, our room was ready, and we dropped off our luggage and then headed right back out to go see the Notre Dame Cathedral, where Celine Dion had been married, because it was closed when we tried to see it the night before. No problem disembarking and walking the few blocks to the cathedral. It is a MUSt SEE and was well worth the walk and $5 admission price. We were able to get right back on the ship as easily as we left.
Once back on board, we did head to the Lido, where indeed they do serve you for the first 48 hours, which I do believe is a great idea. I'd rather have that inconvenience as opposed to a stomach virus from someone who comes on board with it unknowingly. The lido had great Asian food, but the set up in the lido makes it difficult to know where a line begins or ends, and the impatience of the other cruisers was very annoying. It was disheartening to see people cut in line, push ahead and then never say thank you or please, even when the crew members had addressed them so politely. Unfortunately, it happened more than not. We ate in the lido for breakfasts and lunches most days, but eventually started just grabbing the great nachos, tacos, burgers and pizza out by the pool to avoid the lines.
We had less than 50 kids on board for our cruise, and they were all very well behaved. There is one flaw in the ship design....the basketball court right above the lido dining room. The first day, some were playing basketball during our first lunch and it sounded as though they were going to come through the ceiling with each bounce of the ball. Luckily, with so few young people on board, basketball was not played very often.
The ship is definitely in need of a facelift. There have been some updates in carpet, etc, but it was a step back in time. Maybe we are used to the newer bigger ships, but even my husband, who is more senior than I, thought it looked very dated.
The pool and two hot tubs in the lido were virtually empty even during the day. That was nice because we were always able to get in the hot tubs and pool. The pool was used mostly by the few kids on board, and the retractable cover was closed on cool days so that it was usable throughout the cruise. We were blessed with a few warm days and they opened the cover. The pool was nearly as warm as the hot tubs, truly bath water temperature. Good for a cold cruise. The only complaint in regards to the pool is that they were closed at 10 p.m. We thought 11 p.m. would have been a better time, we enjoy a late evening hot tub and if we wanted to go to the shows, it made it hard to fit it all in.
We had early dining, and had requested an 8 person table, as we love to meet new people. We were placed at a four person table, and our table mates only ate there a few nights. The true disappointment was the speed of service. On every other ship I have been on, there is a waiter and a steward assigned to our table. HAL has made some major cutbacks, as we had only one waiter who was taking care of many tables. Our first evening, we didn't get water or menus for 35 minutes. I love the personality of our waiter, but he was frantically trying to keep up and it was virtually impossible. We finally decided to try Canaletto one night, and that was very good and well worth the $10. We don't usually eat outside of the MDR, figuring that we've already paid good money, plus we usually love the dining room experience, but it was a little too slow, so we opted for the cheap alternate. I would recommend trying it.
The food...was good. The desserts were disappointing. It is though they are trying to be so fancy and exquisite that the desserts end up being strange looking and tasting. The brownie dessert offered every night was very dry and the cupcake in the lido was rock hard. We aren't hard to please, but really had to search to find desserts that we liked. Again, the Asian food was great, the taco bar was great, and there were some dishes in the MDR that were very good as well. The Boston Baked Beans and pork shank dish was delish! My fave of the cruise.
We were in an inside cabin, and it was the nicest, largest inside cabin we've ever had. The bathroom was large, although I hope they replace the shower curtains during their refurbishment of the ship. The curtain, when not attached to my body, would sometimes slip over the edge of the shower and the bathroom would quickly flood.
The public spaces on the ship were kept very clean. The seats in the theater were uncomfortable, but the recliners in the Crows nest and Explorations Cafe were wonderful!
In regards to entertainment, we LOVE to go the shows on the ships. After the first night of the country/rock show, we realized that the shows were not good. The talent was good, but the shows themselves were not nearly as good as other cruises. The Adagio duo was great, the other groups in the other venues were good, but the production shows weren't. The casino was virtually empty most of the time, which was good, we could get a place to play in this small casino.
The ports were great, Montreal, Quebec we delightful and we just opted to walk around. We took a Big Pink bus in Charlottetown, but it looked alot like our town in the midwest. We went to the strings excursion in Sydney, but felt that it was overpriced, although the musicians were good. We took the horse drawn trolley in Halifax and loved it. The people of Halifax were so nice! Bar Har was incredible as well, we did the Acadia National park and lobster bake, well worth the money of the excursion. The lobster was outstanding and the park magnificent. The tendering into Bar Harbor was a little scary at first, with everyone and their brother wanting to leave right away. As you enter back into the US, everyone on the ship has to show their id to the immigration officers before you go to the show room to get your tender ticket. We had an early excursion scheduled through the cruise line and appreciated that we got first dibs on a tender. The ship is so small that it was confusing to come up to the area and see the line snake around and around with everyone getting frustrated. Not sure how they could fix that, although they did ask people who were not scheduled on early tours to wait until after 9, but many chose to go up as early as 7:45 a.m., wanting to get off right away. After that, the tendering process ran continuously and smoothly.
The crew was very pleasant, polite and did a nice job. Our room stewards were incredible. We enjoyed the cruise, but won't go on a smaller ship or older ship like that again.