Recently completed HAL Indonesia cruise, round trip Singapore. Was not impressed. Embarkation was a little slow, but not a big negative. Cabin was adequate in size, had plenty of closet/storage space, especially as I was travelling solo. Cabin attendant was excellent – always had my room ready early in the day and evening. The ship appeared old and drab, with a blah color scheme (beige, brown, rust) but was kept fairly clean. Fellow passengers included Dutch, the largest group at over 300 (related to the fact that this was the first real Indonesian cruise), North American, other European, Australian, and some Asian. Because of the large number of non-native-English speaking passengers and crew trying to communicate in English, problems ensued. People were talking over English language announcements and during tour explanations, lots of misunderstandings on elevators and in food lines. Sometimes you had to actually push your way out of the elevator when the group to whom you repeatedly said “Excuse me, this is my floor” were too busy talking to each other to hear you. Then, of course, you were a “rude American.”
Food was mediocre. I ate primarily in the Lido and appreciated the fact that the menu there mirrored the menu in the MDR. A few good items, overshadowed by tasteless, overcooked, cold food. Most potatoes, other than fries, were cold and tasted stale. Meat was generally overcooked and tough. A few fish items were delicious, but many suffered from too long at the steam table. Veggies were OK, but very unimaginative. Soups and starters were good. Logistically, the buffet line was a nightmare. It was set up to allow you to serve your own cold items, and be served the hot items. Unfortunately, the first two days, we were required to be served everything by a server, which is a fairly normal infection control policy. That meant no salt/pepper at the tables, no condiments to use freely, etc. After the required two day period we were allowed to serve ourselves the cold items and drinks, use condiments, salt/pepper shakers. This only lasted for a few days, then, due to some GI illness, we were back to “lock down”. I understand the need for this, but the execution was awkward. Since everything is handed to you at different areas along the line, on separate plates (no trays), you have to run back and forth to your table to set things down, then run back to get the rest of your meal. For example, start with your cold appetizer, run to table, go back for soup, run back to table, eat soup, since it will be cold before you can get everything else, run back, get in line for your main course, run back to table, eat it. It was almost impossible to safely carry more than one item because of the jostling crowds. And do not forget to ask for salt/pepper, cutlery, condiments, etc. Oops, you forget to get a drink – back up to the drink line. Oh, no! They forgot to put the sauce on the Duck A L’Orange, back to the line…. Breakfast was the worst – should I consume cold eggs or cold coffee, because I could not have both hot. And of course we had the Indonesian server, who is really not knowledgeable of the food he is serving, trying to explain to the German passenger what a particular food item was, in a language they were both not fluent in. It was like a bad, overlong Abbot and Costello routine. And I must mention the single worst food item – the stuffed cabbage rolls – dry, unseasoned rice stuffing (no meat whatsoever), pale tasteless cabbage, and no sauce, not a drop. Isn’t it supposed to be braised in a tomatoey sauce? One bite was enough.
Entertainment has taken a big hit. Over the 14 night cruise, there were 4 nights when there were no prime time shows in the show room. One night, the CD touted the fact that they were going to show a movie in the show room, as opposed to the smaller movie theater. The movie was “House of the Flying Daggers.” Really!!?? For a ship full of European and North American octogenarians? Also, I suspect that HAL is doing away with most of their resident entertainers. The six singers and two dancers did only two shows in 14 nights, and neither show featured all of them. Of these, only one real production show (“Amore”), which was excellent. The rest of the time they were stationed around the ship squirting disinfectant onto passengers hands. The other showroom entertainment included a male quartet singing music from the 50s and 60s, a concert pianist, a magician, a comic, and Sally Jones, a musical theater pro, who was excellent. During the day, there were lots of trivia contests, but almost everything else involved additional cost or was a marketing gimmick. I won one contest and got a cheap HAL pin. C’mon, couldn’t they at least give a coupon for a free specialty coffee or a bar drink? I love culinary demonstrations, but these were very basic and somewhat awkwardly handled. Wrong information was spouted, e.g., “can I use sugar substitute in place of sugar on top of my Crème Brulee?” “Of course.” Yeah, try brulee-ing Splenda. The CD did one in which he made a Shrimp Po’Boy. He made the sandwich sauce with mayonaise, hot sauce, etc. Then he added some buttermilk in which his RAW shrimp had been marinating. When questioned, he said it was no problem because buttermilk would kill any pathogenic bacteria. So now I will wash all my surgical instruments in buttermilk. Library/internet café was very good – until we went into “lockdown” – nothing was left out to browse – all books locked up. You had to peek through the barrier to find something you might like to read, and ask the one attendant to get it out for you. Again, I understand why, but it was just one more restriction. Internet was slow, but that is not unusual. Shore excursions were overpriced, and did not produce much bang for the buck. E.g. two hour bus ride, stop for coffee, continue for another half hour, have lunch, walk up to temple for an hour, then repeat the journey back to the ship. CruiseAsia seemed to handle most of the excursions – the busses were comfortable and not packed, and they provided free water and soft drinks on the bus – although HAL never told us this and continued to hawk their own non-free water prior to our leaving the ship. Included excursion meals were fine.
All in all, not a satisfying experience and HAL’s last chance. I am going on a Princess Hawaii cruise next month, so I can make some comparisons. My best recent cruise was on Azamara – the ship was not special, but the experience was - it showed that good food, excellent service, and skilled management can overcome anything.