We decided to take this cruise because Holland America was reported as a premium line and we were going to visit the Panama Canal. My DW and I are in our mid 50's and were in stateroom 5104 mid ship. We did the partial transit because we had no interest in the cities on the Western side of Mexico and wanted to see Aruba and Curacao. I will attempt to break the review into destinations and specific areas on the ship itself. A little note about my shipmates. There was a large population of more mature individuals but everyone seemed to get around the ship fairly well. Last January we did a Princess cruise and the demographic seemed to be at least 25% in walkers and scooters. Another note to make now is that this ship rocked and rolled worse than any ship I have been on in my vast 5 cruise career. My DW used Dramamine quite a bit. Also the lifeboat drill was very unorganized especially considering the advanced age of us passengers.
The embarkation went as smooth as with other lines we have sailed on (Princess and Carnival). We arrived and filled out the paperwork stating we were not sick. We were directed into a line and once we had our cards we were let on the ship. We arrived about 1115 am. Once on the ship we were directed to the elevator to drop our gear off in our stateroom. I thought the welcome was a bit ho-hum compared to Princess where I felt truly welcome once on the ship. This was just an impression and did not impact my vacation.
The stateroom was as reported by other reviews. I had a few lights not working and the couch (hide a bed) was a bit thread bare but still nice. The pillow top mattress was not too hard but not soft either. My DW travels with an air mattress so we were very comfortable. Note that there is one outlet in the bathroom and one on the desk area. There are no more so plan accordingly. The AC worked perfect the entire trip and the toilet flushed every time as designed. No odd smells anywhere on the ship I was currently at. We had warm water in the bath but not any really hot water. It did the job so we did not complain. I have to admit that the TV channels were better than other lines and the ship had a video library that we could borrow from so we could have some alone time. The cabin stewards were awesome (if I can use that word), they seemed to know when we were in or out and when we stepped out they were in the room and cleaned it or set it up for night. It took several days before I even saw them in the hall to see what they looked like. My balcony overlooked one of the lifeboats that doubled as a tender, more on it later.
As to the dining due to the ships rocking we did not eat in the main dining room the first night but went to the Lido once the drugs took effect on my wife. The first two days we were served by the staff when ever we wanted anything. In my opinion they could have done this the entire cruise and it would sped up some of the lines. Meals were as to be expected in a cafeteria setting catering to the whole world. The food was good but not gourmet by any stretch of the imagination. We have no complaints. We also did not seem to have any issue finding a place to eat inside when we needed one. The crew ate sometimes in the Lido with us but did not seem to integrate with the passengers. I would have liked for them to eat lunch with us and get to know us a little better. I have been to a few resorts that do this and it seems to go along way in understanding and patience. We ate two breakfast in the Lido and the rest in the main dining room. Food was good but I did enjoy the main dining room experience more. We met quite of few interesting people. Lunches were on the Lido, DW seemed to enjoy the French fries and hamburger (non-gourmet) and I had a sandwich made in the deli most afternoons. For dinner for most of the other nights we had fixed seating in the MDR. Second night the service was beyond terrible, all of at the table were going to ask to be reseated. Carl (from the roll call) had set up meet and greet (more later) and there I met the Hotel Manager. He asked me how my experience was and I told him great except for the dining room. He asked for details which I gave him. I told him we did not want to make waves but he said he would take care of it. I think maybe the comment that the Carnival line could give their dining room people lessons might have stung a bit. That afternoon the head waiter contacted us and again I explained what our experience was. From that night on the service was exactly what I would have expected from HAL. Talking to others at breakfast it looked like we had a disorganized staff that re-adjusted and did great. Wine steward was on his game the entire cruise so he is exempted from the issues we had and I made sure the Hotel Manager knew this. We had one meal in the Pinnacle Grill. The meal was good but the service was very slow. It seemed that they were very short staffed when we were there. This observation was shared by other shipmates.
Entertainment was the best I have experienced so far. The shows were very good, singing was excellent. Comedy show was very well done. Music was geared to the 50's and 60's and no country and western stuff for those who are into that genre of music. The BB King show was also great. Shows were short (usually 45 minutes) but we went back many times to see them. HAL did a good job with this entertainment. The ships band could also be found in various places on the ship and they too were outstanding. In the afternoons the steel drum guy would appear and either play or give lessons. I am always amazed at the great sounds coming from a former steel 55 gal drum. There never seemed to be anyone in the Disco so we did not spend much time there. A piano player and violinist played in one of the lounges and seemed to have a following. They were good, not my forte but good.
We got a membership to the spa and used it everyday. Great hot tub and lots of room. Worth the money. Enough said.
Destinations included Half Moon Cay, Aruba, Curacao, Panama Canal, and Costa Rica. We tendered off to Half Moon Cay. We shared the island with another ship so the island was crowded. There were not enough chairs to accommodate the cliental and I think HAL needs to look at this issue. I did not find anything spectacular about the island but we can say we were there. Food was alright but the dining area was scattered amongst the trees so finding your way to your table and back for drinks could be a project. Food was ok but not note worthy. Ships food much better. We arrived in Aruba at about 1 pm so we elected to not do too much. We walked around town and enjoyed ourselves and returned to the ship. There were two other ships so we docked in the commercial shipping area which led to a long walk to get out of the dock area. Some guest with physical limitations had some issues with this and from what I could see were quite vocal. Those who had excursions were picked up at the ship. Next day was Curacao. This is a really neat island, it is little Holland. DW and I enjoyed this island. Walked around and came back to the ship. Next was the Panama Canal, we were on the bow at 0530 and glad we were. They told us we got to the locks at 7 am but there is a lot of stuff that happens prior to the entry. We were way up front so got a good seat. What else can I say, everyone needs to do the Canal once in their life. Next day was in Costa Rica. We did not do too much but there were those who took trips and seemed to enjoy themselves.
Now about the ships condition. Mechanically all of the big stuff worked great. I did notice that the preventive maintenance seemed lacking. Of the other 4 ships I have been on I never noticed so much rust and cosmetic things needing attention. I say this because on other ships they usually always had a maintenance man touching up the paint or fixing stuff all of the time. I did not notice this on HAL. Again, I never felt unsafe in the ship at any time. I did not find the décor distasteful as some have indicated but it worked well with the ship. As I said earlier and its worth restating the ship rocked with every wave, one night I thought we were going to be thrown out of our beds. The life boat outside of my balcony had trash on it the entire cruise and it was also one of the tenders. They also had masking tape over a spot that should have a light source for the boat. I felt that it should be covered better because it could let water in if we were in an emergent situation.