I've cruised with HAL a number of times, as had the friends who joined us. My husband has been on one previous HAL cruise. We are in our early 50s, fairly active, and enjoy the low-key atmosphere and overall "civility" of HAL. We spent one night pre-cruise in San Diego at the Westgate Hotel, and felt we had far too little time in this beautiful city.
We arrived around noon using the HAL shuttle from the Westgate Hotel, where we had overnighted. There were very few other passengers and after a brief wait we were issued our room cards and a numbered ticket. We were told to have a seat "over there". After about 5 minutes (and a fair amount of grumbling from people around us) our number was called and we were able to board. Yippee, we're "home" for the next 10 days.
We spent a bit of time saying "hello" to the ship, then had lunch in the Lido. As expected, the Lido was quite full so after eating we went back into the other public areas. The announcement was soon made that the cabins were ready, so we found our cabins, abandoned our carry-ons, and went back on shore for a while.
Muster drill went very quickly. One crew member was checking cabin numbers on life vests as we arrived at our muster stations, and another was checking them off on a list. This meant that a full roll call was not required, only calling the numbers of the cabins that had not been seen. Only a few people seemed to have missed muster drill. We were soon permitted to return to our cabins and really start vacation!
We attended the sailaway at the Aft Pool, and watched the lights of San Diego recede to a chorus of yelping seals on the channel markers. Delightful!
We'd requested and received late (8 p.m.) fixed dining. We had a great table and very compatible tablemates. Our waiter and assistant waiter were initially outstanding, and we found the food to have improved noticeably since our cruise in May 2008. However, about a third of the way through the cruise we noticed that the waiter and assistant waiter were struggling, with long gaps between courses and the occasional look of panic on their faces. They rallied after a couple of days, though, and the service once again exceeded our expectations. Overall, the food was very good to excellent, tasty and beautifully presented. The consensus at our table was that HAL had really improved their food. Our tablemates were a delight, and dinner became a highlight of our days.
We'd booked one dinner at the Pinnacle Grill. Our reservation got messed up somewhere between Seattle and the ship. Fortunately the Grill Manager had called us, to see which reservations were included at our table, as Seattle had separated us into two groups. Somehow, though, the Grill Manager figured out we were a single group ? Our confirmation showed 8 pm, and after some negotiation, we were able to have a table at 7:30 pm. Service was fine, not outstanding. The lobster tails were absolutely the worst we have ever tasted, absolutely appalling. The Steak Diane was "melt in your mouth" and the best dish at the table. The chocolate soufflE was excellent.
Cabins and Cabin Stewards
We had an oceanview cabin, which we'd booked specifically in order to be near our friends. It was standard-issue, bright and pleasant and easy to spend time in. However, when we booked we didn't notice that it and alllllll the cabins around it were triple and quad occupancy. Traveling over Thanksgiving, we were surrounded by people, with virtually every cabin except ours and our friends' being filled to capacity. The cabin stewards must have been rushed off their feet opening and closing beds and cleaning up after all the passengers they were serving. That didn't keep them from greeting us with "good morning" and big smiles whenever we saw them, but we did notice a few times that the housekeeping suffered a bit. Nothing significant, just not the usual near-perfect care we've seen before.
Our cabin was showing quite a bit of wear and tear. The couch was tired-looking, and some tiles in the bathroom have fallen off or broken. There was rust around the inside of the window frame and the sheer curtains were quite badly stained.
There was an inordinate amount of noise in the halls starting early in the morning and continuing till bedtime each night. It would have been more pleasant if some passengers had closed their doors to contain the noise, and had not encouraged their children to burn off energy in the hallways. I don't think these people were being deliberately inconsiderate, they were just unaware of the effect they were having on others. Annoying but not vacation-ruining.
We received written advice twice on the cruise regarding hygiene and gastrointestinal disease. The Captain of "the beautiful and elegant Rrryndam" made two announcements as well. Eventually though, the day before docking back in San Diego, the ship was moved into "Code Red". The timing was pretty good, as it occurred just before noon on the last sea day, so most of the passengers were attending the Mariners' Brunch (two seatings were required, there were so many Mariners on board). This really reduced the load on the Lido for lunch service that day, and gave the staff a chance to work out the kinks. At dinner that night, the waiter explained the service (no touching of anything another person would touch, bread and butter served to us, salt and pepper on request). Dinner proceeded as usual and as usual our table had a great evening.
All the crew were working hard cleaning/sanitizing, in addition to their regular duties. They had to be exhausted but still managed to smile and make light conversation.
There was plenty of grumbling from some passengers, sadly, and I heard several people reducing or removing their auto-tips when I was at the front desk getting change a couple of times.
Ports and Excursions
PUERTO VALLARTA We did an independent tour visiting wild dolphins. It was wonderful and some people on the tour swam with the dolphins. The tour operator was friendly and informative. It was very much like spending a half day with a friend who owns a boat, and we all had a great time.
MAZATLAN We did "Concordia and Copala" through the ship. The two towns and the countryside were fascinating, and we really enjoyed the chance to get into the country. However, we were very rushed, and the tour guide initially said "When I say you have ten minutes, I mean TEN minutes, I don't mean 15 minutes, I mean TEN minutes". We spent only 15 minutes in Concordia, where I could have spent the afternoon. The tour guide told us "You have 15 minutes, you can see the church and the town hall". We spent 1 hour and 10 minutes in Copala, which included about 45 minutes for a pre-arranged lunch. The tour guide and bus driver DID manage to get us to the Golden Zone and dump us out in front of Diamonds International, saying "you have 30 minutes" which was just enough time to keep us near Diamonds International. Once we were all back on the bus, we drove in a loop around several blocks of the Golden Zone, arriving back at Diamonds International, apparently to pick up the tour guide. So of the 7 hours (a lot of time traveling) we spent 115 minutes actually seeing what we'd signed up for, and 45 minutes at or near Diamonds International. We were unhappy about this, as were several others on the tour.
TOPOLOBAMPO We utilized the free shuttles, seeing both Los Mochis and Maviri Beach. The shuttle to Los Mochis ran every hour, and the shuttle to the beach ran every two hours. The last shuttles back to the ship are quite early, around 2 or 3 p.m. from Los Mochis, and 4 p.m. from the beach. The people were very welcoming and proud of the area, and the buses had tour guides providing information and commentary for us. There were some vendors at the pier. We found their prices to be very high compared to other vendors we'd seen. We'd have been happy to support some of them had their pricing been more competitive. I suspect that will change over time, and their prices will become more reasonable. Los Mochis is very authentic, a working city where visitors can taste a different culture. Sadly, we heard a couple of comments from others on the ship about "all the Mexicans". Gee, it's a Mexican city, what do you expect? Maviri Beach had some restaurants, and the hosts were very welcoming, even carrying chairs out to the beach for the tourists to use. The water when we were there was very shallow, and there was a fair amount of "ocean debris" around. This was only 1 ½ months after a hurricane, though, so what we saw may not have been typical.
LORETO (a tender port) We did a kayaking trip we'd booked through HAL. It was a great deal of fun, and departed from "Inn at Loreto Bay". After the kayak tour we were able to spend time at the beach there, but had to arrange it by cab-fulls of people, so the cab driver(s) didn't end up taking only 2 or 3 people back at a time. One woman got stung by a jellyfish.
We ate a late lunch at the Giggling Dolphin in Loreto, and recommend it highly. Good food, friendly service and reasonable prices (menu priced in pesos). Some members of our group found their way to the shopping area and were very impressed.
LA PAZ There were musicians at the pier and many, many vendors. The prices were more reasonable than at the Topolobampo pier. We again had free shuttles to the town and the beach, with tour guides on the shuttles providing information, commentary and entertainment. Shuttles to town were every ½ hour and to the beach every hour. We saw the town square in La Paz and ventured onto some of the side streets, then spent time on the Malecon. We boarded a shuttle back to the ship, grabbed a bite of food, then headed for the beach on the free shuttle. This was a beautiful beach, lots of soft white sand and clear water. Beware of stingrays, though. A number of restaurants had food and beverages available for purchase, and chairs and tables to use if you bought refreshments. We grabbed a cab back to the ship, as we'd just missed a shuttle. $2 USD per person, and the cab held 8 people.
CABO SAN LUCAS (a tender port) We just walked around the marina. Lots of vendors hawking tours, but not rude or persistent. Once we'd said "No, gracias", they backed off with most of them wishing us a pleasant day.
We had a great guest lecturer, Dave Levesque, who did two talks on Cortez and the conquering of Mexico. He was a fascinating, dynamic speaker, and we'd have attended other talks had he given more.
We did not attend any evening entertainment as by the time dinner was over, after long days in port, we just strolled the Promenade Deck for a while, then retired. We heard mixed reviews from our friends and our tablemates regarding the shows in the Vermeer Lounge.
The Ryndam was doing "silent disembarkation" for this cruise. We were in the 8:30 a.m. group for disembarking, so gathered our hand luggage and went to stand in the very obvious l-o-n-g line which snaked down a hall almost the full length of the ship. We stood and waited, and waited, and waited. Finally an announcement - we'd not been cleared for docking. Sigh.... We presumed it was due to the Code Red. Another announcement - we'd not be doing "silent disembarkation" after all. Then we were cleared to disembark, and announcements started calling the various groups to the gangway. Of course, once people started leaving, others took that as their cue to leave, and it got a little messy. Could have been much worse, but it wasn't great, either.
This was a great itinerary, and we'd do it again in order to spend more time in Los Mochis, Topolobampo, La Paz and Loreto. The Mexican people were very welcoming and gracious. As usual we can't say enough about the great crew, who manage the most difficult of circumstances with smiles and gentility. Most of the passengers we met and chatted with were charming and interesting. Without going into details, though, we were all quite taken aback at the number of selfish people and actions we witnessed. We saw more obnoxious behavior on this cruise than on any other we'd been on. A lasting memory of this cruise will be the rude behavior of some of our fellow cruisers, which fortunately did not outweigh being delighted by the people and culture of Mexico, and meeting some fabulous people both onboard and on shore,.