Let me preface the following by saying we chose the cruise exclusively based upon the ports (La Coruna for Santiago, Porto, Lisbon, Cadiz, Gibraltar, and Malaga for Granada/Alhambra). We had never cruised on HAL before, with two prior European cruises being on Carnival and Princess. There were four of us in our traveling party, utilizing 2 inside cabins on the Main deck. Though the cruise began in Rotterdam, we joined the cruise in Harwich.
Embarkation only had a slight hitch as the computers were down, yet we boarded around 11:30 a.m. and our luggage was waiting for us outside our cabins.
Our first impression was the age of our fellow passengers, especially embarking with us in Harwich. As our party consisted of a 59, 62, 72, and 81 year old, we felt like youngsters among the cruisers. Our second impression was the size of our cabin. It was significantly larger than ones we have experienced on Princess or Carnival. It even included a couch! The room steward was efficient(which, as I will later relay, an unusual occurrance on the ship). The public areas were very classy and attractive, especially for an older, smaller ship than we had previously used.
Our first experience with the staff, other than the room steward was dealing with the front office regarding their taking our passports prior to embarking on the ship. There was no reason given and there was no stating when they would be returned. When asked, the first gentleman just said we would get them when we get them. Thanks for the insight. Eventually, we demanded them the next day and they were given to us by another person at the front desk. Apparently, those who did not ask had them returned days later. The Lido and Dining room were staffed by people who either had limited English abilities or lacked the incentive to quickly deliver meals. Most meals were lukewarm or cold. In some cases, in the dining room orders were forgotten or misunderstood. As such the food was just okay. In the Lido, it looked like for every one person working, there were two watching. At the "burger" place on the Lido deck, slow would be a euphemism. The staff was totally indifferent. When we would see a staff member appearing to be enthusiastic, he or she would really stand out (e.g., at the late night desert party). At one of the Lido outside dinners, they ran out of items within the first hour. Room service was very efficient. The room steward provided us with fresh fruit, though the bananas were usually quite old.
As for entertainment, the best was the first night singer and the second night "Broadway" singers and dancers. Unfortunately, it went down hill from there. There was a particularly unfunny gentleman who showed up twice (Broadway and Duet shows) and significantly put a damper on the other talented performers. The entertainment director did his best to promote enthusiasm, but the general age of the majority of the cruisers limited his effectiveness. The piano/singer seemed to work hard, but his music sounded more like elevator music. Indeed, the best entertainment was that provided by the house band and a singer in the upstairs lounge. Unlike other ships, there were no comedians.Overall, we found the activities on the ship, especially on sea days either limited or boring.
The person who gave the 2 talks on the ports(about 30 minutes each or about 10 minutes per port) seemed to be giving them by rote memory. When we asked him for approximate cab costs from the port to the city(Porto), he turned out be off by 100%( it cost 10 euros not 20 euros). Overall, he seemed to exude the same indifference as much of the rest of the staff. We did appreciate the "lack" of constant announcements and selling as we had experienced on other lines.
The shops were extremely limited in their offerings. For example, there were no t shirts representing the cruise. Instead, you could buy t shirts from the Baltic cruises. We found it difficult to purchase on board miscellaneous sundries.
The casino was relatively tiny, but it appeared that the machines were not as tight as most cruise ships.
The internet/Explorers lounge was rarely busy, so computers were readily available, though as on other ships, quite slow and costly. The person supervising the computers was helpful and knowledgeable.
We did not use the pool area, though it was often covered, which made it comfortable. It looked like vary few people ever used the pool. The fitness room was up to date and rarely used by other cruisers. The wrap around deck 3 was great for power walking. I especially appreciated their Cancer Walk on the last sea day.
As mentioned before, the ports were the primary reason for the trip and they did not disappoint. We used a private tour company at 3 of the ports, as they were at least 30-40% less than the HAL excursions. At the other ports we just walked off and did "our thing".
I should add that the "hotel director/manager" did a wonderful job organizing a cruise critic meet and greet as well as inviting me to participate in post cruise evaluation(on the last day prior to our arrival in Barcelona).
Overall, we found the ship to be adequate, but the staff not so much. We did not feel we belonged to the demographic of our fellow cruisers.