This cruise I travelled solo, as I was cruising just to surprise some friends/coworkers who were on the ship. My regular job is as a Musician in the entertainment department. I flew from Adelaide to Auckland via Melbourne with Qantas and Jetstar. I thought the combined Qantas booking, and Jetstar being a subsidiary of Qantas, would have let my baggage be checked through, but it wasn't, I had to re-checkin at Melbourne. No big deal, just not what I'm used to. My hotel in Auckland was the Heritage, on Hobson Street, about 5 blocks back from the Princes Wharf where embarkation was to happen. I organized a later checkout (12pm) which the hotel was fine with, in fact they were very friendly and amenable, I can't fault the hotel at all, with the exception being the towels provided in the bathroom. Small and thin. The rest of the room was super, complete with small kitchenette, big bathroom, comfortable beds, lots of storage, just the small towels which seemed unusual.
Embarkation was a breeze, I rocked up about 1:30pm, dropped my bag pierside, checking in took maybe 15-20 minutes. No long lines and it was all just nicely organized. I proceeded straight to my room (didn't hear any announcements if it was ready yet, but thought I'd have a look, sure enough it was all set. Since we were doing sea days straight to Sydney I headed back off the ship to the local shops and stocked up on some junkfood and Pepsi for the cabin. The first thing I noticed about this ship was the cleanliness. Definitely one of the cleanest ships I have been on! This is my first time on an R-class ship, having spent most of my time on S-, Vista- and Jewel-class ships. Returned about 3:30, my bag was already delivered, so I unpacked what I needed and then headed outside for boatdrill at 4pm. Was a reasonably quick one, and the weather was just comfortable no sweating or shivering which helped people keep quiet and get us out of the quicker. Headed upstairs to the sail away party for a few minutes, the HalCats were playing and were sounding good, and a good crowd was enjoying the view of Auckland harbour as we left. I went downstairs to the office and introduced myself to the Cruise Director Michelle and Hotel Manager Robert (I worked with Robert last year on the Statendam) and let them know I was aboard and was asked if I could play keyboard in the band since the replacement hadn't shown up. Shamefully, I had to admit my keyboard playing isn't as good as my real instruments (Sax/Percussion), and besides I was on vacation :) That aside, the band still sounded quite good. I ate in the Dining Room 2 nights, and the Pinnacle 1 night. It was enjoyable meeting different people at dinner (was seated at tables for 10-12) and although the majority of cruisers were of an "advanced" age, there were a surprising number of sub-30s as well - but I think most were there for the 3 days as opposed to the longer offerings of this cruise. Entertainment was the expected fare of HAL - George Kowalski was in the Ocean Bar (another flashback to last year's ship) for his 38th year on ships, playing ballroom dance music. Those who were there were enjoying it, I saw some serious dance couples. The String quartet in the Explorers lounge were great, playing from memory and taking requests. Marisha & the HalCats were all over the ship, and sounded great, but their hours in the crows nest were largely to small/non-existent crowds. A shame, as this particular HalCat band is tight, has fun, and is well-led by their bandleader James. Surprisingly I only attended one show in the Frans Hals lounge - the cast production show "Gold" (yet another flashback to a previous ship). The cast was talented but was let down by the audience - a lot of B2B passengers had seen it the previous week, so hadn't come back. I just wish Holland America used LIVE musicians to play the shows, as the midi backing track can't compare. The other two showtime offerings were the welcome aboard show - which was too cheesy for me to stay for, and Martin Lass - a great violinist whose show I have played on a few occasions. In the Piano Bar there was always a large and enthusiastic crowd to have fun with Randall Powell (yet another flashback to previous ships). I did not take part in any activities, but the event staff were all great and we all hung out at various times. Nightlife on the ship was very quiet after about 11pm.
The Stateroom was great, looking out over the Lower Promenade deck, but luckily I had a direct view to the sea, and didn't notice people walking past so it wasn't an issue for me. The 2nd morning there was some loud noise (similar to a circular saw) which lasted for about 10 minutes at 930am, but I was able to return to sleep without hassle. Due to a problem with one of the turbos, combined with a head swell, we were 2 hours late arriving into Sydney, but this allowed more people to experience the sail-in through the Heads, past HMAS Sydney's Mast, the Opera House, the Bridge, and into Circular Quay. Disembarkation began approximately 1030am, my group was called off just after 12. It was not that huge a dilemma since the disembarking passengers were a small number compared to the in-transit passengers, however it would mean the embarking passengers may have had to wait longer than usual. Sorry about that. I walked myself up to the Swissotel on Market street, just around the corner from Pitt Street Mall and the Centrepoint Tower, checked in about 1pm, and relaxed.
All in all, it was a great way to see the ship from the "other" side of the coin. Having worked from the service end of the industry I knew what to expect, and how to make life easier for all involved. I would love to cruise for longer next time. I hope this review has been enlightening for some at least.