Who Are We: My husband and I are both in our early 40s and we have a daughter who is 9. We live in Ontario. We'd been on one prior cruise but this was our first time on Holland America or cruising Eastern Canada and New England.
Our Cabin: We had an inside cabin on Deck A. Before we left several family members with more cruise experience tried to convince us we'd hate an inside cabin and we should try and upgrade but we loved our cozy little cave. It was very quiet except when we were entering or leaving port. And it was nice and dark when we wanted to sleep. We spoke with another couple on the cruise who had paid a lot more for a suit on the Navigation deck and were woken up each morning by the sun and the sounds from Lido.
Club HAL: Club HAL was great. It was smaller then the kids club on our previous cruise but I consider that a bonus. The staff all knew my daughter's name. The activities were great and age appropriate. Several times we gave my daughter a choice between doing something as a family or going to Club HAL and she always chose Club HAL. My daughter went to the kids club almost every night from 7 until 10 and spent a lot of the sea days there as well.
Dinning: We really enjoyed the food on the Massdam. We ate in the MDR each night except for the one when we dinned in the Pinnacle. The food in the Pinnacle was very good but we all agreed that when we sail again with HAL we'll probably skip it because we enjoyed the MDR food so much. We really appreciated the portion size in the MDR, not to big nor too small.
We ate some breakfasts in the MDR and some in the lido. Both were good. I enjoyed the international breakfast options in the MDR and we all liked the eggs benedict station in the lido.
We also enjoyed some of the special On Location afternoon food offerings such as the lunchtime mussel bake in PEI, or the pre-dinner snack of local cheese and sausage our first day in Quebec. They also put on a poutine bar in Quebec but I think they needed to give the non-Canadian passengers some instructions as to how poutine was suppose to come together.
I enjoyed tea in the MDR whenever I was aboard in the afternoon. The Indonesian tea was likely the most interesting but I'm also a real sucker for scones and cream.
Lunch was probably the weakest meal but we were rarely on board as this is a port heavy itinerary. We did enjoy the Mariners lunch during our second week.
Entertainment: This was a bit of a mixed bag. We really enjoyed the On Location Cape Breton fiddlers. They were a different act in each direction but were both excellent. The comedian/magician was a little corny but still a fun show. He also did a special show for the kids which my daughter enjoyed a lot. Most of the other shows we either skipped because they didn't appeal much to us or went to but slipped out early. We enjoyed the sing songs in the piano bar.
On sea days I found things a little slow. I should have brought more books. While the library did have an impressive number of volumes they didn't really appeal to my taste. I did enjoy a couple of the movies, the cooking demos and the kitchen tour.
Special Days: Our itinerary had us aboard ship for both Canada Day and 4th of July. The MDR was decorate for both events and there was a party in the Crows Nest both evenings. Of the two I think Canada Day was more fun. They had half price themed cocktails and a small buffet of treats. The 4th party featured a sock hop which seemed poorly attended.
Embarkation, Disembarkation and Turn Around: Montreal is a really small port. Both embarkation and disembarkation was smooth and easy. Turn around day in Boston was a little tricky. It seems that the port will only allow turn around passenger to leave the ship either before the passenger disembark or afterwards. Since we'd not been to Boston before we opted for before but then we were in Boston at 7:30 in the morning on a Saturday. There wasn't much to do before 9:30. We also had to be back on board in time to repeat the muster stations drill.
Ports: Because we did the back to back we did each port except Boston twice. I'll include both days in my reviews:
Quebec City: Quebec City is beautiful. Our first stop here we took a fantastic walking tour of the city with Voir Quebec and also went up the Citidelle. Our guide showed such depth of knowledge and pride in the history of her home town. She did a great job engaging us all including my daughter. We didn't enjoy the Citidelle as much. We arrived just as the changing of the guards was starting. It was interesting but it was windy that day which made it cold up on the hill and made it hard to hear the explanation of what was happening.
Our second day in Quebec I was feeling a little under the weather so we went to Musee de la Civilisation. The museum is not vast but each exhibit we saw seemed really well thought out. My daughter enjoyed the history of video games exhibit. I liked the exhibit on the culture of Paris in the 1880's Both of these exhibits were temporary, the museums permanent collection seems quite small so I suspect the place changes quite a bit as different exhibits come and go. It is right across the road from the dock so it might be a great option for anyone who doesn't feel up to climbing the hill or if the weather is poor. Afterwards, I returned to ship to lie down while my husband and daughter enjoyed some shopping.
Our first day in Charlottetown we concentrated on Confederation sites. We did a walking tour with a costumed guide of the downtown. We took a horse drawn cart around the town. And we did the Founder's Hall display. All of these were good value. I imagine American tourists might find these a little less interesting then we did, but we were keen to show our daughter where Canada started. I was worried that Founder's Hall might be cheesy but it was really well done. Founder's Hall also doubles as a visitors center and is near the dock.
Our second stop here we rented a car and drove north to the beaches that are part of the National Park system. We had a lovely day on the red sand beaches wading in the water, building sand castles etc. Rental car situation was a bit of a mess because of construction but we got it sorted out.
Both days in Sydney we rented a car to get out of town. One day we headed to Beddeck for the Alexander Graham Bell National Historic Site. This museum draws the links between Bell's childhood, his work as a teacher of the deaf, his early success with the telephone and all his later work in early flight. The way it is presented it is much clearer how he moved from one thing to another rather then just a list of accomplishments.
The second day we drove to Fortress of Louisbourg National Historic Site. We really needed more time then our ships schedule would allow to see this place properly as it is very large. They've done a stunningly good job reconstructing and bringing this fort to life. We only had half a day to explore and I could have easily been there for many more hours. My daughter did the children's tour and enjoyed it very much. One issues we had was there was no fast food in the the 18th century so there is none in the park. They have a lovely looking sit down restaurant but it would have taken most of our day. We should have brought some food with us.
Our first day here we started at the Pier 21 which is right next to the cruise ship port. It features the history of the immigrants who traveled to Canada by ship. The museum is not large but the stories are mostly told as recordings so easily found a morning worth of stuff to do.
After lunch we went down the board walk to the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic. This museum was a bit of a bust for us. The museum has some excellent displays on the Halifax explosion, the Titanic, etc but my 9 year old found it all a bit overwhelming as it is pretty depressing stuff. We left earlier then I planned but took our time walking back to the ship. The board walk was filled with fun things, an excellent playground, a splash pad and several great piece of public art, including our favorite the drunken lamp posts.
Our second day in Halifax we took a our with Great EARTH expeditions The itinerary included The Public Gardens, a hike near Peggy's Cove and time to explore Peggy's Cove itself. It was OK but didn't rate some of the excellent reviews I've read else where. I'm not sure our guide had been with the company as long. Peggy's Cove is stunning and worth a trip out to see although it can be quite crowded. I also enjoyed the hike although I wish I'd brought bug spray.
Our first day in Bar Harbor we took the free bus from the village green though the National Park. We got off at several stops and did some hiking. The park is beautiful but I wish we'd brought our swim suits and a dip in the ocean would have been nice.
Our second day my daughter and I went on a lobster boat tour on the Miss Samantha. They leave right from the same docks as the tenders come into to. We really enjoyed our tour and learned a lot about the lobster industry. After that we sought out a lobster lunch and poked around some of the interesting stores
We bought tickets on the Old Town Trolley. The commentary was kind of corny but given we had a limited amount of time in Boston it wasn't a bad way to see the city. I wish we'd had more time to actually hop off the trolley and explore the city.
On our way back to the ship we also stopped in at the Boston Tea Party museum which surpassed my expectations. They did a really nice job of explaining the history and the interactive nature of the museum really captured my daughters attention.