Check in was fairly smooth, with only three clerks being involved and the computers loosing communications fairly often. They didn't put my wife and I on the same credit card, so we were called back to give them another 15 minutes of laptop resets. We were not the only ones who thought the process could be smoother. Other reviewers mention the NEW staff. This must extend to the pier personnel also. But as this was the first time for this ship, hey- there has to be a learning curve.
The ship is NEW, beautiful, and - I believe- ELEGANT. The crew was very attentive and we were always greeted with smiles and either "Good Morning", "Good Afternoon", or "Good Evening" by every crew member we would pass in the common areas. We had an ocean view stateroom and were pleased with its size and storage facilities. Drawers under the foot of the beds and under the loveseat add extra storage. This is the first time I can remember NOT using all the drawers. The ship is still clean, but one area on our deck, Main deck, amidships port side has a "sewage" smell and now tobacco smoke is starting to linger in the casino and stateroom hallways.
Entertainment was very good. The comedian, Al Katz, and Dr. Justin Miller, a guitar virtuoso and storyteller extraordinaire were the highlights. The production shows were some of the best we have seen, and only the guest performers on other nights left something to be desired. This could be my taste in entertainment, but those in my party were of the same mind. Only one entertainer was - in my opinion- below par, the Piano Man. His talents on the piano were outweighed by his poor singing voice. The Adagio Strings, a string quartet playing classical music, were excellent and we were sorry we didn't find them until halfway through the cruise. The HAL Cats with Leena, and the three piece band, Shawn Bell and the Neptunes, both did excellent jobs, and the show band in the Main Stage theater was top notch.
The food was very good. The service was excellent and the variety was very good. We had "As You Wish" as the Fixed seating was already booked when we booked our cruises. This wasn't any problem, as we found that our waiter and assistant waiter were personable and efficient, so after the second night, we reserved the same waiter and time for the rest of the cruise. Ask your waiter to do this for you and you don't have to call in the next day. I found at least six of the serving staff had been with us earlier this year on the Ryndam, and one had just come on board at the beginning of this cruise. Holland is listening and adding more experienced staff.
The timing for some events are unusual to say the least and downright aggravating to say the most. Cruising the Saguenay fjord is done at night on the way to La Baie and then at night leaving La Baie. We did see some of the fjord prior to it getting dark, but listing this in the brochures had us expecting to see more. Entering New York City we sailed as close as you can get to the Statue of Liberty, without taking a ferry to the island, at 5:15 AM. It was so dark that without specialty camera equipment, no pictures are going to be good. Still a beautiful statue, but would waiting an hour for some sunlight have been a major delay? The NCL Dawn pulled up an hour later. We spoke to some of the passengers later in the day at La Guardia and they were able to get good pictures with similar cameras. Small details, but this was our first time and we were unable to stay over in NYC, so it was a bigger issue for us.
We arrived a day early to visit Quebec City on the first day of the "cruise". We were welcomed aboard on Thursday, but were not to leave port until Friday evening. Flying in late Wednesday night gave us a full day to tour the area. We had my wife's parents traveling with us and due to the number of suitcases and the tiny trunks of the taxis; we had to call for a minivan to take us from the hotel- (Hilton- not recommended) to the pier. The driver was a licensed tour guide, so we booked him for a personal guided tour to take place the next day- Friday. Jean Paul was very informed and although English was a second language, he was easily understood.
The ports we stopped at were great. We missed Charlottetown, PEI because of hurricane Issac. That means the Eurodam has yet to visit this port. Two misses in a row. We were credited for port fees, which has not happened on other lines in the past and was appreciated. Very minimal fee, less than two mixed drinks per person. We toured Quebec City as mentioned previously, then had two sea days - one planned and one due to Issac. Saguenay would have been prettier had the colors been changing, but was still a beautiful stop. We took the trolley to the museum and walked around the Ha Ha Bay area and La Baie.
Sydney, Nova Scotia was more of a people watching time. The giant violin at the pier got more attention than the lovely landscape and early settlers homes. After leaving Quebec, where French predominates, the Scottish music and Gaelic influences are a little startling at first. Warm friendly people. We found a craft sale at a local church and the people will sit and talk to you as though you are old friends. I would go back just for the people. Halifax was one of the stops where one day is not enough time to see all that is offered. You dock at Pier 21. Don't spend your day there. It is easy to do with all of the shops and museum. We rented a car and went to Peggy's Cove. Words can't describe the beauty of the rocky coastline and the colorful village. This is a real working fishing village and the people are fisherfolk. Tourism brings the money, but the sea - life. We were fortunate enough to see whales sporting in the waters visible from the east end of the parking lot at the visitors center. The visitors center is close to the main road and is a short walk from the lighthouse through town. This area overlooks a small bay and is used as a turnaround for the vehicles. The lighthouse is one of the most photographed in the world and is the lighthouse on the front of the HAL excursions brochure, definitely a MUST SEE. Bar Harbor is pretty spectacular. The Acadia National Park. Cadillac Mountain tour is very good and again, one day is not enough to see everything. Boston is so packed with history and events that the ONE thing to do is the Freedom Trail. Don't believe the trolley vendors that tell you the stop is close to the pier. We docked at Black Falcon Terminal and walked 1.5 miles to get to the closest stop. Either pay the $10 for the shuttle to the Quincy Market and buy your trolley tickets there, or catch the Silver line bus from the next street over, Drydock Ave, for $2 and ask the driver where to get off to catch the trolley, the bus stop should be at the convention center next to the Westin. The trolley stops at the Westin. Trolleys go all around the city area and stop at predetermined stops. These stops are not always at the sites, but a three to four block walk will get you there. Some are across the street, but some do take leg power to get to. The shuttles to Quincy Market leave and return to the parking area at the west end of the terminal, approximately half a mile from the east end of the pier. The Eurodam was all the way at the east end and the NCL Dawn was at the west end directly across from the parking lot. Hard to say how far away you may be until you get there. The highlight for me was the USS Constitution. New York City was different to a Midwesterner.
We decided to take a taxi from the pier to LaGuardia. After an hours wait in line to get a taxi, the taxi smelled of vomit and I had to keep the window rolled down for fresh air. The driver seemed not to notice it and did try to give as much information about the city as possible while driving 70 MPH in a 30 MPH zone and avoiding buses, pedestrians and other NY drivers. I compare this to going to an amusement park where you don't have to fasten your seat belt. Cost of the taxi(for 4 riders and luggage) from the pier to LaGuardia was about the same as a one person transfer through HAL.
The itinerary of daily events for HAL is minimal. Other lines seem to have two or three events going at the same time, while HAL has only one and sometimes long lapses between the next scheduled event. This may be due to the age of the guests and the time needed to get from one event to the other, but leaves active people little to do at times. Only one karaoke night then the Superstar contest and no more karaoke. Personal favorite event, so I missed not having more. My wife didn't. Good library and DVD library. Every room has a DVD player. I normally don't watch the boob tube when on a cruise but other lines have the time, temperature, daily navigators log, sea conditions, etc, which the Eurodam was displaying on larger screens on deck 2 in a common area, but not on the TVs in the rooms. Also the aft camera was pointed down at the water behind the ship for the whole cruise. If I only had my pocket tool I could have fixed that.
Microsoft and HAL have teamed up and there is a special workshop set up for digital camera users. Five different classes, one or two daily, are scattered throughout the cruise, teaching how to transfer pictures from your camera to a computer and a personal website, how to set up a "blog" site, how to create a movie from your stills and incorporate a movie into this, plus more. There are only about ten laptops available, so get there early to get a laptop. The BEST thing about this-it is FREE. Absolutely no charge. What is HAL thinking? Every night Anthony was available for Techspert Time and he sometimes had one of the photographers come in and give hints of picture taking and how to set up the camera for the best pictures. I didn't know media cards had different record speeds, did you?
Summary Great cruise. Will advise going later in the year as the colors had just started to change. Definitely not for children. Not for those who can't walk, as many of the areas visited are hilly coastal towns. Hopefully experience will smooth out the rough edges, but a little patience and a smile will Definitely make the voyage better, if for no one else, you.