Just back from 7 night New England, Canada cruise departing Boston last Saturday 9/21. This is our third cruise with HAL, and will be our last. We knew the ship was older, but we wanted a smaller ship with a more quiet atmosphere. The ship is definitely showing its age and is in need of new carpet, painting, and a general spiff up. It was very clean, but looked rather worn and tired. There was a definite decline in service and a HUGE decline in the quality of food. We traveled with family, so spent a fair amount of time playing cards and visiting. We may have ventured more, if we were traveling alone.
The room stewards did a great job, and our room was always clean and tidy - with the obligatory towel creatures several different times. Really, the whole ship was very clean. Hand washing stations were everywhere, and they were very mindful of hygiene. As is the new practice, you are not allowed to serve your self in the Lido for 48 hours to avoid virus transmission.
Departure went very smoothly, and leaving Boston Harbor was fun with the planes departing Logan as we exited the harbor. Overnight, the weather got bad, with gale force winds and serious rain forcing the cancellation of the Bar Harbor stop. We were disappointed, but, understand the need for safety - especially in a port where we would have tendered in. The port taxes were refunded to our stateroom bill. There were a variety of activities that day, but the weather kept everyone inside. The pool was too cold for swimming, as were the outdoor hot tubs. But, surprisingly, they kept the pizza station open on the outside rear Lido - with one poor staff member hovering out there in 2 coats, and near the ovens to keep warm. It should have been closed for several days when it was too cold for anyone to venture out for pizza.
Halifax was cool, but a nice day. We ate lunch in the farmers' market at the pier, organic soups, locally produced meats, etc. Good for a realistic price. I couldn't do a lot of walking, so we stayed near the pier, and took a bus to Peggy's Cove. Lovely views, but a real tourist trap, and WAY too many buses in a small area.
Sydney was a nothing to shout about. There were some local artisans set up near the pier, and a couple little restaurants, but nothing much more in the town. I heard that the trips to the countryside had good scenery. We ate lunch at a nearby Irish pub that had a decent lunch, reasonably priced.
Charlottestown was a highlight. Although it rained lots, we ventured 8-10 blocks into town and were enchanted by the architecture, shops and people. We took a horse drawn trolley tour ($15 each - not arranged through the ship). It runs every hour, and is stationed near the tourist center just off the pier. Lovely narrator showed us lots of history and beautiful buildings. There is a small seafood restaurant a few blocks up from the pier that the locals highly recommended - we wanted to eat there, but, by lunch time, people were lined up out the door, and it started to rain. So, we went to the lobster place on the wharf. It was good - I had baked halibut, my landlubber husband had a burger. It too, was very busy. The weather forced us back to the ship after lunch.
That night was a mussel and clam bake on deck. Nothing to shout about...the set up was lovely with many food sculptures.
Thursday was at sea.
Friday was Quebec, the highlight for us. We went into Old town and loved the setting, the history, and the shops. Lots of restaurants on every street. We went out to Montmercy Falls and St Anne Basilica. Both were very beautiful. We almost wish we would have spent the time in the city, though, as there is so much to see.
The open seating is a joke. Yes, they take reservations, but only for any time between 5:15 and 6, or after 7:30. In between, its show up and hope you don't wait for 40 minutes. We did try to make reservations, but, never seemed to call early enough to get a 5:45 spot. People were really ticked. The dining service was SLOW --- often 20 - 30 minutes between salad and entree. And usually 15 minutes to get a bar drink with the meal. Getting a water refill required practically tripping a server. I have some food allergies, and tried to ask the servers about the menu choices: not a one was able to answer my questions. The formal night dinner of filet and lobster was awful. The filet was grisly, the lobster (obviously frozen), was mushy and no flavor. Stay away from scrambled eggs in the main dining room, as they were nasty powdered eggs. GROSS. Many of the soups were underseasoned. The apple vicchysoise was very good, though. Baked potatoes tasted like they had been baked and kept warm for some time. Overall, nothing was really great, and that was disappointing. I get how hard it is to serve so many people, so many choices. But, HAL used to be known for their dining experience. The buffet lines sometimes ran out of food, and we had to ask the staff to refill. Again, I get how hard this is, but, that never happened in the past.
We felt there was a general lack of communication to the passengers. For example - we had to "unexpectedly" tender into 2 ports because a larger HAL ship was there, and they needed the pier. Excuse me, aren't these ports booked like a year in advance? HAL knew we were going to tender there, but we were misled in the cruise literature. That took shore time out of the day, caused extra confusion, and limited some passengers from going ashore. Then, the literature and crew had told us we would be docking in Old Town Quebec. But, again, we were told that another ship "needed the spot", so we docked about 3/4 mile away from old town. Near a bank of grain elevators, and far away from the beautiful scenery. This was not a surprise to HAL, as a large tent was set up as the dock site. Buses and cabs showed up there bright and early - they knew we were coming in there. Why didn't the HAL staff and literature tell us? They did accommodate us with a shuttle to Old Town, but again, some passengers were not able to transfer in and out of 2 buses to make it to Old Town.
We had chosen an early flight from Quebec, so disembarked at 6 AM. We had arranged it ahead of time, so it went quite smoothly.
One very bright spot for us: we were crossing the lido deck one evening, while the crew was cleaning the deck opposite of us. The sprinkler system went off surprisingly, and got us all wet. The staff apologized, saying someone had turned the system on for the wrong side. Within about 20 minutes, our clothes showed dark brown spots from the water. We went to the front desk, and they informed our room steward to get the clothes laundered at no cost. Luckily, all the spots came out. We were very pleased with that!
We went to 2 of the shows which were not impressive. My family did enjoy the computer and camera classes, and learned lots from the instructor. The explorer cafe is a nice addition (and an additional fee for fancy coffees).
I had a wonderful experience in the spa with Kristen - she did some massage therapy on my bad knee, and reduced my discomfort considerably. High recommendations for her!
Overall, not a WOW experience, not a bad experience. Just not what I expected for the price I paid and the HAL I once knew. There's lots of vacation choices. I doubt HAL will be one for quite a while.