This was my first trip on HAL, my 6th cruise,and the 2nd with this intinerary. I traveled with my two nieces ages 19 and 28. The reasons I chose this cruise, were that I wanted to try HAL- as my TA has raved about HAL over the years, it was a small ship, I liked the itinerary,the overall daily schedule of activities met our needs.We did not want activities such as rock climbing, waterparks or a large party atmosphere for 7 days.
Embarking- It only took 15- 20 minutes and we were on the ship.I loved the fact that a simple "no" was sufficent when the photo staff stood by to take our pictures as we boarded. We were on board at 12:30 and our rooms were ready. About 10 minutes later there was a knock on our door and our room steward, Toto, had stopped by to introduce himself. Toto was one of the best room stewards I have ever had. The room was always clean, dishes were removed, Beds were made up, and there were always fresh towels and the towel animals were a great hit.My nieces loved the fact the last nite he slipped them a couple extra chocolates and thanked them for cruising with Holland. When we met him in the hall we were always greeted.
Debarking- we left our room at 8:20 and were waiting for a taxi by 8:30 It was one of the easiest ones I have encountered.
Rooms- We had a room for 3, on deck 4.I really wondered how we would manage given our ages and with 3 of us sharing what I expected to be a small room and one bath. The room was quite spacious for 3 and we had more than enough space to hang up our clothing as well as lots of draw space.There was a flat screen tv and DVD player and quite a library of DVDs available to us for viewing... Free ! I liked having a tub, and the bathroom felt larger than other lines. :-) The only negative was that a couple times after returning to our room.... it smelled like cooked cabbage. However the smell soon dissipated.
Food-As first time HAl Cruisers were went to the Lido for lunch, we were served by staff for the first 3- 4 days due to concerns of the noro virus. I was disapointed with the overall lack of variety of food and quality.My last cruise with another line had offered much more variety, as well as a better quality. I was happy HAL labeled the taboli as such... as I would not have recognised it otherwise! It did not taste like homemade or like the purchased kind. The dinners in the MDR were ok, not outstanding, but nothing to complain about. Breakfast in the Lido was was fine,as well.Lunches in the lido were Ho Hum.We ended up with "As you like dining in the MDR" for dinner. We chose to be at the door by 5 each time and never had a wait. One of the negatives was due to what appeared to be short staffing. Dinners took 2 to 2 1/2 hours.. also a negative ...there were times during the day you could not get fresh coffee anywhere on the ship... and alas there were times that there was nothing open if you were hungry between dinner and 11 pm.( we learned not to miss a meal in favor of an activity, as there was no snacking !)**However the staff was outstanding in both the Lido and MDR. We especially liked Coleman, he alway recognised us, and had a big smile for us.
We also became spoiled as we visited the Explorer Lounge each evening for the infamous HAL truffles,Sony saved them out for us on a couple occasions, which added to the feeling that we were cherished guests on the ship.
Afternoon teas were a nice perk. We managed to attend 5 of them. We had never experienced the tea's on the other lines and found that we looked forward to this traditon each day.
We attended some of the shows, I thought the HAL staff was very talented,we really enjoyed them. My nieces liked the comedian, the magic show was so so, And I would have forgone the "Dancing with the Stars" for a lively round of the "Newly Wed Game" anyday !I was really bored with "Dancing with the Stars", and I enjoy the TV show. Go figure! We enjoyed the music in the Ocean Bar each evening it.
The safety drill was more lengthy than necessary. However, in all fairness that may have been due to passengers who didn't seem to graspe that this was manditory for all ,or that the rest of us had to wait and wait and wait for them out on deck in the sun on a very warm humid day.
Activities- Unfortunately, the activity schedules did not alway compliment our shore time, so we only attended one Microsoft class, a towel folding class and a movie. The one sea day did not seem to have more activities added, and it dragged a bit and what activities we did go to were very crowded. If you decide to attend a Micro soft digital class ... get there early.Unfortunately, there is a limited amount of computers and people tended not to share. Perhaps when they re-do the ship in 2015 they will change it from bench/couch seating to chairs to encourage more sharing. I would have liked a couple more craft classes/ or enrichment activities scheduled in the afternoons between lunch and dinner.
Kids -We were told there were a 150 kids on board. For the most part we didn't see them, and those we saw were well behaved and actively "parented". We had no complaints.
Would I take Holland America again, yes. The girls both loved the pace and the old world type of cruise style on this small ship. They have said it is their favorite line. The Staff was wonderful. There were some things I would "tweek" on the ship, but our overall experience was good.