We consider ourselves experienced cruisers as we have been on more than 30 cruises. This was our second cruise with HAL and our expectations were high after an excellent cruise in the Mediteranean on the Noordam in the summer of 2006. We also thought that sailing on a "new ship" after dry dock would be great...we were wrong.
The Boarding time was pushed to 5pm and when we arrived at the port, we were given chairs to sit for more than 1 hour because they were not done cleaning the ship from the prior sailing Norovirus. However, it was really hot in the port holding area and the port staff was not informed as to an estimated time for embarkation. It would have been nice for the ship to provide some entertainment or complimentary cocktails (they provided a $15 credit for the lunch we were not able to have on the ship).
The biggest issue we had was with the service. It seemed that everything we requested came with an automatic "no" and no alternatives solutions presented. I do not suggest you choose the as you wish dining because the majority of the time they are trying to push you into dining at the Lido. The Maitre D' and Asst Maitre D' were not helpful at all. On the first day at Sea, the breakfast in the dining room was from 8-9:30am and we showed up at 9:15am to be told that we would need to go to the Lido...after insisting that we had arrived within the designated time they finally seated us. We waited 45 minutes to receive a breakfast of pancakes (which were hard) and eggs benedict (that were cold and stale). The service at the Pinnacle Grill (the paid premium restaurant) was not much better.
There were several issues on the ship such as: the air conditioning in the Crow's Nest did not cool and it felt like you were in a sauna. The windows in the entire ship (cabins as well as the common areas) were filthy and we were in Alaska so you know people spend a lot of time looking out at the scenery. I went to the front desk to tell them about the windows and they said they would leave a message for housekeeping (not sure that is the department that cleans the exterior windows of the ship). The sauna in the fitness center was broken for a few days.
Now for the positives:
The entertainers (singers, dancers, and piano lounge) were excellent. However, the DJ did not have a good variety of music to keep the small crowd engaged. I loved the open setup of the Mix Bar, Casino, and shops (it would have been great to have the Disco close to that entertainment area as well).
I was really disappointed with our HAL experience and not sure if I will sail that line again...I saw another reviewer comment that it felt as if you were on a Carnival cruist and I think I agree with that assessment...the premium service was not their compared to the premium price. I regret not having chosen Princess or Celebrity instead of Holland America.