Rotterdam - Dec 23, 2008-Jan 4, 2009
First time on HAL. We booked this cruise rather late so we booked an inside guarantee, as they were literally 1/3 the cost of a balcony. We were assigned two side by side cabins on deck 2, forward, 2511 and 2515. We stayed at LaQuinta Airport for $52/room using the Table Tennis code. Walked to the shopping area for dinner and then again in the morning to Kmart for last minute purchases. There is also a movie theater within walking distance.
LaQuinta provided a free shuttle to the port. We arrived around noon and waited in no lines anywhere. Went to the Lido deck for lunch, after checking our carry on luggage near the hot tubs. At 1:30 they let us go to our cabins. They are plenty spacious with a full size sofa and lots of closet space. There are locking drawers in each night stand as well as a safe which uses a key. The towels are deliciously large and the shampoo, conditioner, shower gel and lotion are lovely. The bedding was the best ever, but there is no solving the "crack down the middle" after pushing two twin beds together. I like the fact they have no bedspreads, just a top sheet over the blanket. Saves me asking them to take the bedspread off. At the head of the bed is a curtain which has back lighting and gives the illusion of a window. There are two hair dryers. One is mounted to the wall in the bathroom and blows warm air at about 1 MPH. The other is in the drawer in the vanity and worked just fine. There is a make-up mirror which magnifies every wrinkle to such detail that it is scary. No refrigerator. An order form for fruit to be replenished. Soda and water for purchase. The teenagers room was identical to ours, but I only went in it the day we arrived and the day we left. I did peek in from the hallway occasionally, but I didn't want to find myself nagging, so I avoided it and just tipped the room steward extra at the end.
There were 1320 passengers on this cruise to include my husband and I and our two teens, ages 16 and 18. We were a little concerned that they would burn out on a 12 day cruise and they probably did. We, however, did not. There were a reported 200 children ages 0-17 on this cruise but I sure couldn't tell. Lots of gray hair and several walkers and scooters. Most were very polite and kind. There are always the exceptions, but they were just that, exceptions. The ship was decorated for Christmas and Santa Claus came on Christmas morning for pictures and gifts. Our teens stayed in bed but my husband and I went down to watch. Our cruise director, Jesse Highley, seemed to enjoy the whole process. The highlight was the little Dutch girl who ran back on stage to show Santa Claus what he had just given her. Delightful!
The food was good. The beef dishes were the best in 10 cruises to include RCI, Carnival and Princess. We ate each night in the dining room, with the exception of the night my daughter and I were sick from the higher than usual seas. We had anytime dining and sometimes we ate with just our family and sometimes we joined another couple or two. We never had any other children at our table and our tablemates were always enjoyable and with the exception of one night when the teens were having some kind of conflict, I hope they enjoyed being with us. We ate breakfast and lunch in the Lido. I didn't find much variety in the food in the Lido. There was always an Asian section and an Italian section and then a general entrée section. There was also a salad area, a sandwich station, and dessert, to include ice cream from approximately 11am to 4pm. They served soft serve and regular in cones, dishes or on some days, a lovely waffle cone. Out by the pool was the hamburger, hotdog and French fries station with pizza and a taco bar. You could build a plate of nachos that rivaled the best Tex-Mex places. The kids ordered room service on occasion, but I never did, so I can't speak for that service.
The spa was a spa and the gym was a gym. I didn't use either of them, so I can't speak for them either. The casino never really seemed crowded, but there was always somebody playing slots or blackjack. The pool games and the sports games never really seemed to draw too many participants although they gave out dam dollars for playing. There was ping pong, basketball, volleyball, shuffleboard, putting competitions and always an early morning walk on the promenade. The library was good. More books than I've ever seen on a ship. Also, a place to paperback swap. A few games to check out if you wanted. Plenty of computers. My husband and daughter bought some internet time - stock market and facebook can't be ignored, even during vacation. Plenty of lounges and bars to just relax in. A good piano player in the piano bar, who played a fun but difficult name that tune game. We played trivia several times, but like all cruises, the hard core players seem to find each other and then always play as a team, winning every time. We requested a session of "Trivia for Dummies" but we never saw it.
The entertainment was very acceptable, but weak. The production shows were good. Not much variety, however. Same aged singer performed 2 nights, a banjo player and Yacov Noy, for those of you who have seen him. We've seen him before but we went anyway. He's good for a laugh or two. They were all okay, but on the last night they combined all three of them for the final show. It was overkill. We went to the Filipino crew show and they had a couple of incredibly talented people. We didn't see the Indonesian show. They were very late at night and we had an early tour scheduled. They have a small movie theater and show movies on most days, accompanied by popcorn. We saw Bucket List and some Christmas movie. One night a movie was the show in the big theater! My daughter and I went to one of the cooking demonstrations. The Austrian chef taught us to make apple strudel. It's a great setup for cooking classes.
This cruise went to Half Moon Cay, Aruba, Bonaire, Curacao, partial transit of the Panama Canal, Costa Rica, Grand Cayman and the rest were sea days. The canal was amazing. They had a lecturer that gave a series of 3 lectures about the politics and building of the canal. It was very interesting. (He did a lecture later about Christopher Columbus which was also very good. The same guy played Santa Claus because he had a white beard.) Costa Rica was our favorite. It rained in Half Moon Cay. The ABC's were fun, but nothing like Costa Rica. I'm going to post a review of our tours in Costa Rica and Grand Cayman over on the ports of call board.
We like this size of ship. By the end of the first week, I didn't need a teenager to tell me which way to our room. They have rugs in the elevator telling you which day it is. They also have great signs when you get down the stairs telling you which way to turn. There was never a wait for an elevator, never waited for a table in the dining room, we could always find a table in the Lido, always had a seat in the show lounge. There was the age old problem of towels holding places on the lounges by the pools. There was always room in a hot tub. Always bar staff when you needed a drink. A captain whose English was good and you could understand his noon updates. HAL might not be my new favorite cruise line, but I sincerely believe cruising with any cruise line is better than cooking my own dinner and making my own bed.