First, and most important, today's HAL is not the HAL of years past. It was once a gracious and elegant line that appealed to well-traveled middle to upper age passengers. In HAL's effort to appeal to the masses, much has changed.
We are a well-travelled couple, mid-60's, who have been on 25 plus cruises all over the world.
--Embarkation and Debarkation in Sydney: Both nicely done and efficient. We had priority boarding due to a suite reservation.
--The Oosterdam in general:
Tired, worn, and in need of a major refurbishment. Much of the upholstery in the public areas is worn and some is dirty. Some worn carpeting. Generally clean.
Neptune suite was spacious, clean, but showing some age. Above normal amount of rust on verandah and on bathroom door frame. Verandah was spacious, but no reclining lounge chairs. Cabin stewards did a fine job. The Neptune lounge is a nice touch and the concierge's are very pleasant and courteous. Room service was excellent and the quality of the food was good.
Expensive, but nicely done. Hal has picked good providers who offer good tour experiences.
The main dining room food was generally good, but waiters are rushed. We found it impossible to reserve a table for two and many times, the table reserved by our concierge was not assigned at the dining room. The "As You Wish" dining just does not work well. Not sure what we should have received with our suite "Priority Dining Reservations", but we could not see that it meant much.
The Pinnacle Grill food and service were outstanding. (A couple of the waiters were as good as we've experienced anywhere!) Unfortunately, what should have been a fine dining experience was ruined by the noise coming from the Atrium Bar. A handful of noisy drunks and a raucous, noisy bartender produced a sound level throughout the Pinnacle that was really annoying. This occurred mainly up until 7PM, when "drink specials" seemed to pull in the worst behaved. Wine prices are very high-about five times retail at the liquor store for the wines we enjoy.
The "dress code" did not appear to be enforced. We frequently saw passengers in jeans and shorts in the dining room, with some dressed that way even on formal nights. In a few cases, the guy who mows my lawn looks about as good. I'm all for casual dress, but a dress code should be enforced or why have it?
We very much enjoyed the individual acts in the theater. The "revue type" shows are not our favorites, but the few we attended were OK. There has been an obvious reduction in pre-dinner entertainment in the bar areas-something we have always enjoyed.
Crew was friendly and tried hard to produce a good experience. We met many nice passengers that we enjoyed, but, unfortunately, found too many who just did not know how to use common courtesy and etiquette. In addition to the dress issues, there were too many feet on the furniture and a few too many children. (Many passengers who were on the previous cruise were very upset about the 300-400 children, some of whom were not supervised or controlled by anyone!) Are there any people who can close a door without slamming it? I can't blame HAL for the passengers, but do believe it's, in part, a by-product of the HAL marketing to try and appeal to a different demographic.
In summary, HAL does a lot well, but there was enough not to our liking that we will not book with HAL again. Others may find HAL very much to their tastes. We just seem to be a better fit for Celebrity, Azamara, and Oceania.