GENERAL: We are in our 50s and have sailed with HAL three times previously. We always feel like the "kids" onboard, since almost everyone is retired. The music and entertainment are geared to a generation older than we are, but we know that in advance. My parents who sailed with us (in their late 70s) fit right in.
We were looking for a relaxing, less expensive cruise that we could enjoy without spending lots of money on shore excursions. We did not buy any shore excursions and did just fine. We also wanted to see fall colors, and we did see some, though not at the peak.
CABIN AND SHIP FACILITIES: Our standard oceanview cabin was very comfortable, with plenty of storage space and the nice extra of a makeup mirror. The shower head worked well, though the water temperature varied somewhat. The room was well lit with good bed and furniture. It was kept immaculately clean by our steward. Nights were very quiet. Our only complaint was that our smoke alarm went off in the middle of the night for no apparent reason. Someone had to come and take it down to be replaced.
The entire ship was extremely clean because HAL has a policy of constantly disinfecting public areas. All public areas were also in good shape and pleasant to look at and use. We appreciated the large library. We also used the hot tub a few times, and it was never crowded. We enjoyed wearing the terry robes provided in the room when we went to the hot tub. We were glad the ship had a guest laundry to use. In fact, there were three laundries on three different floors. It cost $2 for a 25-minute wash and $1 for a 45-minute dry cycle. The gym had lots of different equipment and was well maintained.
FOOD: For the first 48 hours, we were not allowed to serve ourselves from the buffet. This is HAL's policy for preventing the spread of disease onboard. As far as I know, there was no outbreak of illness on our ship. Generally, we have noted a decline in the quality of HAL's food over the years, though it is still good. We ate breakfast once in the dining room and were disappointed by tiny portions and mushy scrambled eggs. We ate dinner in the dining room every night, except for the night of the clam bake by the pool. Dinner was good overall, but usually at least one course was not up to par. The main course was very good, especially the meats. The beef was tender and tasty. Appetizers were also usually good, though the fruit appetizer had a boring sameness by the end of the week. Salads were good. Soups were a mixed bag--some weak and tasteless, some quite good. We had a chilled peach soup that was tasteless, and later a chilled blueberry soup that was excellent. Desserts were also a mixed bag. I was generally disappointed in the chocolate, but I had an excellent chocolate soufflé. Baked Alaska the last night had only a little bit of ice cream loaded with merengue. The flowers on our table eventually died and were never replaced. Service was generally good, but we sometimes had trouble getting our beverages refilled.
The Lido buffet served a very good breakfast, especially the cooked-to-order stations such as eggs benedict. We saw the same fruit for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and it got boring. It took us multiple trips to the buffet to get what we needed since trays are not available. Beverage glasses were tiny, so we had to keep going back to get more. Lunch quality was mixed; sometimes the entrees were very good and sometimes not. I liked the pasta station. At the sandwich station, toward the end of the cruise I got a sandwich with stale bread and rusty lettuce. The grill by the pool was a nice break from the buffet. Burgers were good, but the pizza looked unappetizing.
EMBARKATION: We arrived in Quebec City the night before the cruise and had a wonderful stay at the Best Western Premier Hotel L'Aristocrate. We took a cab to the ship the next morning. The ship was docked farther away from Old Quebec, but the taxi took us right up to the large tent where we checked in. It was the fastest and easiest embarkation we have had in all of our eight cruises. There was no line at 11:45am. We got on the ship and our room was ready, so we took our luggage there on our own and had lunch at the buffet.
PORTS: Then we took HAL's free shuttle to Lower Town and explored the historic area. The ship stayed in Quebec that night, so we had two wonderful days in Old Quebec. It's best to go early in the day before it gets very crowded. We used a self-guided tour from AAA to explore. The Museum of Civilization was quite interesting.
In Charlottetown we walked around the historic area, ate Cows Ice Cream, went to the modern art gallery at the arts centre, and wandered the shops.
In Sydney we took the historic walk, but there wasn't much else to do.
In Halifax we had warm, sunny weather, so we strolled the boardwalk between our visits to the Immigration Museum and the Maritime Museum (both worth seeing).
In Bar Harbor, Acadia National Park was closed due to the government shutdown, so we strolled through the beautiful town and along the shorepath. There is a church in Bar Harbor that has several fantastic Tiffany windows.
ENTERTAINMENT AND ACTIVITIES: The Dutch High Tea was a treat. We also learned a lot at a computer class that was offered. Entertainment was geared to an older crowd. The first night was an overview of all the acts, and some of them seemed cheesy. The men's do-wop night was fantastic. The comedienne was pretty good, as was Broadway night. The magician was just ok. The duet of the soprano and tenor was very good.
DISEMBARKATION: We had expedited disembarkation, and it was extremely fast. We were off the ship and at the taxi stand at the Boston pier in five minutes.
SUMMARY: This was the relaxing cruise we were looking for. It was also economical because we skipped HAL's shore excursions. We probably won't cruise this itinerary again, but we're glad that we did.