We live near Vancouver, BC so enjoy the coastal repo cruises. After several on Princess, we tried HAL on a 3-night from Vancouver to San Francisco. Our timing was poor! A record-breaking early fall storm produced tropical-storm force winds and 25 foot seas. Here are grades and explanations for what we experienced on the m.s.Zuiderdam:
SHIP: B+. This is a beautiful, elegant ship with fascinating art everywhere, including the stateroom hallways. The bold (by HAL standards) color scheme works brilliantly, with only a few "what were they thinking?" moments. There are lots of nooks and crannies for quiet reading. My biggest complaints: the outdoor deck space is uninspired, with the Observation Deck being a total waste (I would need X-ray vision to see through the wind shield.) But HAL does still have padded lounge chairs on the Promenade. Yes! Inside, I did not understand how the handsome Waterford crystal seahorse in the (less than thrilling) atrium could be so poorly presented. No lighting at all!!! Doesn't crystal shine in light??
CREW: A. We sailed right through a serious storm. The only port, Astoria, was cancelled. Outside decks were closed until the last day. Wild, raging seas caused the ship to rock back and forth. Yet, Zuiderdam and its bridge crew seemed to handle the angry seas well. The Captain kept us well-informed and hurried into calmer weather. Plus service in the restaurants and bars was mostly top-notch. (See the food section for a major failure.) Another negative: we never met our cabin steward even though we were in a Signature Suite.
Bottom line: passengers should never underestimate the training, skill and dedication required by crews to provide us with safe, comfortable, and entertaining passage on the open seas. Especially in extreme weather conditions.
STATEROOM: A. Our SY ("up" grade from SZ) was 6016 on the Upper Verandah deck. Outstanding. Huge balcony (our only access to the outside during the storm) and huge bathroom (2 showers! 2 sinks!). Lots of sitting room and storage. Good lighting. A treat. I am spoiled!
ENTERTAINMENT AND ACTIVITIES: B+. Lots of folks complain that HAL offers little entertainment. Now I have to say that this cruise was NOT lively and some of that is due to HAL's notoriously mature passengers. However, I think a lot of us (including me) were strung out on meclazine or other sea sickness remedies. That said, HAL offered an entertaining magician, cooking demonstrations, interesting lectures (about waves!) and music from standards to pop to classical. We especially enjoyed Adagio, a violin/piano duo who played everything from Cole Porter to Mozart and played them well.
FOOD: B. Except for the specialty restaurants, the food was disappointing and not as good as our Princess cruises. Lido choices were plentiful and satisfying but not particularly interesting. I had a nice entree in the Main DIning Room (beautiful!) and service there for dinner was good. But 2 breakfasts in the MDR were a disaster. One did not arrive until 40 (yes, forty) minutes after we were seated. And when it arrived, it was practically nothing... a tired, miniscule frittata. The 2nd breakfast arrived more quickly, but it too was a sad, tiny affair. I understand portions are reduced for health reasons, and that you can order extra. But this was ridiculous. For the positive.... Canaletto's was just fine and remarkably atmospheric for being a partitioned area of the Lido. And Zuiderdam's Pinnacle Grill is a gorgeous room with strong food. (I especially liked the mustard-horseradish sauce on the filet mignon). OTOH, desserts were pretty and tasty but not memorable.
EMBARKATION and DISEMBARKATION: A. Both were quick and painless. Well done!
MISC: Love the Vista elevators. They are quick, scenic and often unused. Crew was slow to recover from the storm. Even when seas were calm, the pools were shut down and the forward deck below the Crows Nest closed. Cocktails were well made. Logistically, the cruise was painless- no small feat. While this review contains nit-picks (and that's what we do here on Cruise Critic), the whole experience was wonderful and I can't wait to get on one of those dam ships again!
Thanks for reading this,