I am a Canadian, sailed on the Maasdam from Montreal on the back to back Canada / New England. Sail dates Aug 10 to Aug 24. This review expands on the pointers I posted in the HAL forum
This is not a large ship and they had about 20 agents working in Montreal so embarkation went fairly smoothly.
Montreal - Lots of hotels to stay in around old Montreal. We flew in a few days early and stayed at Springhill Suites as I am a Marriott rewards member. The hotel is literally walking distance to the terminal and I notice a lot of guests checked out Saturday morning and were headed to the Maasdam. But as instructed by the hotel, do not try and walk it, as some of its along cobblestone streets. However the cabs will rip you off, its a $20 cab ride to the port. The hotel was also close to the terminal and we could disembark the ship and bring our luggage back to the hotel and have them store it prior to our flight out of Montreal late in the afternoon (we arranged this with hotel prior to our departure two weeks prior). This allows you to browse old Montreal or head downtown and do things without lugging your luggage. Also notice other disembarked passengers did the same thing. Those coloured luggage tags from disembarkation give it away.
Ship - the ship is one of the smallest in the HAL fleet, the food in the Rotterdam dining room has a good selection. Waiters are understaffed and seem very busy and overworked. It could be because we were upstairs and they seem to be going up and down. Very little time for socializing. Lido breakfast is basically the same for fourteen days. Lido lunches and dinners have a good selection of what's being served in the Rotterdam dining room.
Being a small ship there are not a lot of other activities to be done. ie: no Rock climbing walls, water slides, ice rinks etc. Sea days are pretty boring unless you head to the spa etc. There are only two sea days out of 14 on this itinerary.
Shows / Food. Knowing that its a back to back cruise for many guests, they try not to repeat the shows. The first night, symphony night, and one other musical were repeats. The comedians were switched on the second leg of our cruise. And of course the dancing with the stars was different. The stage and theater are very small and some of the views from the back of the theater seem obstructed. They have a Filipino staff show at 11pm one night, and for the return voyage its the Indonesian staff turn. Shows highlight some of the dances and instruments from their homeland. These shows played to a full house and it shows the dedication of the crew. They are performing after putting in a full day of work, and they will be up the next morning at whatever time getting breakfast ready for you.
Rotterdam menus are not repeated. However you will see some of the same food selections from the first portion of the cruise show up on the return trip.
Quebec City - enough said elsewhere on the forums. Took a private tour to the falls and the island. Toured Old Quebec, citadel, chateau.
Charolottetown - did the HAL tour to Anne of Green Gables and Cavendish as they use Gray Line and the prices are similar to what you can purchase the tour for on the website.
Halifax - this is the nicest city on the itinerary. Hired a private guide to go to citadel, Peggy's Cove, Ryer's Lobster for lunch. He drove around and showed us a bay and the houses. The second time in port we walked all the entire boardwalk taking detours along the way, ie: Citadel tour.
Bar Harbour - went on the HAL whale watching tour. We saw three different types of whale. The whales were putting on quite a show that we were late getting back to port and were on the last tender back. Good to be on a ship tour and know that they will wait for you.
Boston - In my opinion the turnaround in Boston for the back to back cruisers is handled very poorly by HAL and I've let them know. Being my first time in Boston, I knew very little about the city except for what I had gathered from these forums. I knew Boston terminal is in an industrial area and that there are things to do in downtown. HAL shore excursions staff only set up two excursions, both at 7:30AM. One was cancelled due to low participation - hmm wonder why?? That was it, there were no tours at more decent times. Nor were the shore ex staff at all helpful in telling you where to go to do your own tours. I actually spoke with a HAL person in the terminal (she was setting up for embarkation) who gave us good info. She told us to have taxi driver take us to the "aquarium" and from there you could purchase trolley tours, harbor tours, get on the freedom trail, walk around on your own. There would be lots of stuff to do.
Being in transit, they either let you off the boat before any disembarking passengers. Otherwise you wait until everyone else disembarks, which is about 9:45AM. You had to be back onboard by 3PM. Watch out for traffic out of downtown Boston on a Saturday afternoon. We were a bit late, but nothing to worry about, ship doesn't sail until 4PM.
Special events - being a mariner and on a back to back cruise you get invited to two mariner lunches (one on each part of the cruise). How many more coasters to you need. There was also a VIP wine and champagne reception with captain and selected crew one evening in the Crow's Nest. Mainly those on the back to back cruise, those in suites, 4/5 star mariners(?) attended.
Its an older ship but they have done a good job of renovating and making it look newer. You can still tell the age in places but it doesn't spoil the holiday. The other way to tell its age was that there were two 110V electric plugs. One at the desk the other in the washroom way up high by the light. That plug was only powered when the light was on. I had six electrical items to charge so my room steward got us a power bar the first night. We had an oceanview room. This ship does not have any veranda suites that can accomodate a family of four. There are big neptune suites but out of price range for such a long cruise.
St Lawrence river is a very busy seaway. You are not in open ocean but travelling along a not so wide river. You will have freighters, ferries and other marine traffic going beside you in the opposite direction at very close range. You will be sailing underneath bridges and power lines with less than 2 meters clearance. So sit by the windows or get outside and watch this for a bit - amazing
Club HAL - it closes at 11:30, reopens from 2-4, then again from 7-10. Strange hours. Activities are not always scheduled. The club is not as well run as the one we saw on Zuiderdam a few years ago.
Casino - they allow smoking in there, in about 1/2 of slot machines. You can still smell it at the other end though even with the ventilation
Disembarkation. It proceeded much faster than promised in Montreal. We signed up for 8:45, but were called at around 8:15 when we were having our breakfast.