This was my husband's & my first-ever cruise. My parents -- frequent HAL cruisers -- had invited my family & my sister's family on a cruise as part of their 45th wedding anniversary. My husband & I had been cruise skeptics in the past, preferring to take trips where we could spend a good amount of time in a particular place.
We arrived in Boston the day before the cruise and stayed at the Holiday Inn Beacon Hill. We wouldn't have paid full-price for the hotel (despite its good location), but we were using my husband' Priority Club points. The morning of the cruise, we took a cab to the embarkation point.
Check-in went smoothly. We seemed to arrive a bit earlier than the bulk of the passengers did, so we got through the process quickly.
We stayed in an interior cabin on Deck 4. Although we had originally requested a crib for my 1-year-old daughter, we decided to just put her on the opposite end of my 5-year-old son's bed (a fold-out sofa). That saved us some room. Having traveled often in Europe, we're accustomed to small hotel rooms, so adjusting to our stateroom wasn't a big deal. It was clean & comfortable. We loved our cabin steward and many of the other friendly stewards who were so helpful and kind to our kids. When our steward learned that my husband was from Germany, he started putting a German news summary at our door everyday in addition to the U.S. news headlines.
We found the dining opportunities on board to be excellent. We did the open seating (with a consistent 5:15 p.m. reservation) at the Rotterdam Dining Room every day. The food was excellent, as were the wines. The staff served food/drink promptly and were attentive (e.g., always bringing me a glass of ice tea and milk for my kids without my asking). We typically ate breakfast & lunch at the Lido restaurant. The food there ranges from average to very good, and offers plenty of variety. Once again, the staff were always quick to greet you, help carry a tray if needed, etc.
Our kids only took advantage of Club HAL a couple of times. The staff were friendly & responsible. There's some room for improvement here... especially for young children (3-5 years). When you first enter the facility, there are several video games which tend to draw the immediate attention/interest of even the smallest of children. Would be better to have those in a separate room accessible only to older kids. And they often had the TV on, running cartoon-based movies. I would have preferred that the facility either have no TV or leave it off for the most part.
Even without Club HAL, my sister's & my family's kids (ages 1, 1.5, 3 & 5) had a great time. They enjoyed swimming on the Lido deck, wandering everywhere on board, and the attention from the ship's staff. There were quite a number of families on board in addition to HAL's traditional crowd.
On a typical day, we got off at port, spent several hours touring around, came back on board for lunch and our younger kids' naps, attended high tea (an enjoyable daily experience), went swimming, went to dinner, got the kids ready for bed, played ping-pong or attended a show (good if not great), and then went to bed. I would have liked to spend more time in the Explorer's Cafe, which was a cool place to hang out & play games or read, but with kids along, we just didn't have the time. We did purchase 100 minutes of Internet service and were able to get good reception on our laptops in our rooms most of the time.
During the cruise, I was glad to have the opportunity to participate in Holland America's "On Deck for the Cure", which benefits Susan G. Komen for the Cure. I think this is a cool thing for the cruise line to do.
Our overall voyage was very smooth. The only time we really noticed any movement was in the St. Lawrence River. We did not purchase any shore excursions. In Bar Harbor, we purchased tickets for Oli's Trolleys and enjoyed a 2-hour tour of Acadia Natl. Park. In Halifax. we strolled along the harbor and visited the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic, which was well worth it. As others have noted, Sydney isn't the world's most exciting town, but the people there were very friendly, and they serenaded us with music before our departure. Charlottetown was pleasant and interesting to walk around. We loved Quebec City above all... a beautiful city with many interesting things to see within walking distance of the ship. Only difficulty we had was finding an ATM that accepted our ATM cards.
Disembarkation went smoothly and quickly. No complaints.
During our last days on the cruise, I inexplicably found myself saddened about the prospect of leaving the staff who had become part of our daily routine... particularly the cabin stewards and some of the dining room helpers. They were all so kind/cheerful. Several of them showed us pictures of their young children back in Indonesia whom they hadn't seen in many months.
Overall, we had a wonderful experience, and my 5-year-old is already asking when we can do another cruise.