Our embarkation in San Diego was uneventful and we settled into our cabin quickly.
We had early fixed dining (anytime dining has proved to be more trouble than it is worth for us) and were delighted with our table mates and waiters. The food was excellent and seemed better than previous HAL cruises we have taken. Chef Karl did a great job of overseeing a good kitchen staff. In fact,the staff was excellent overall. Much more friendly than most HAL crews. This may be reflective of the more outgoing/less reserved attitude we have notice of late on HAL.
Our cabin was very nice and HAL did a very nice job on the recent refit. The only part we didn't care for was the redone theater. Holland has refitted this into a cabaret setting and it just doesn't work well. Hard to see from the tables or the balcony where many of the seats face the wrong way. It is one of those "great in theory but doesn't translate in practice ideas. They have also greatly reduced the size of the stage so those who enjoy the Production numbers of old will be disappointed. It is now set up for much smaller acts which, no doubt, save them money.
Overall, the entertainment was below our expectations. The production numbers were just not up to the standards of any of the cruises we have taken in the past. The productions themselves were not very good and, with the exception of the two (that's right two)dancers who were excellent, the talent was not very talented. About half of the other acts were quite good. As I said, we were disappointed (as were most of the other guests we spoke to). The highlight of the entertainment on this cruise was Steve the Piano Man. Steve mans the piano bar from 9PM until closing and was great. His area was packed every night.
There are many ports of call on this cruise with the best being on the second half when you pass through southern Chile and round the horn up to Buenos Aries and Rio. The scenery is outstanding.
In Buenos Aries we had the good fortune to obtain the services of an outstanding guide, Alan of Buenos Tours (www.buenostours.com). Allan had come highly recommended, but far exceeded our expectations. His tour of Buenos Aries was one of the highlights of the trip. His company offers many tour options but he will also tailor tours to your specific needs, as he did for us. A banker from England, Alan decided to spend a summer in BA to work on his Spanish and ended up staying and founding his own company. He can be reached at: www.buenostours.com We can't recommend him enough.
Rio was somewhat of a disappointment given the fact that have to get both an expensive Brazilian visa and yellow fever shot (about $400 a person) to even get off the ship there. Yes, you need them even if you are just going to the airport to return home. The setting is beautiful, but there is a high crime rate and it is quite expensive if you stay in the Copacabana area which is the only decent part of town. Aside from the beach, the only major sights are Sugarloaf and Christ the Redeemer. The other tours we took were disappointing.
Our opinion of Brazil was not enhanced by the Health and Immigration departments keeping us on the ship for over 7 hours while the shook down Holland America for bribes before letting any passengers disembark. If you take this cruise, do yourself a favor and get off in Buenos Aries. Rio is clearly not ready for either the World Cup or the Olympics.
All in all, we enjoyed this cruise very much. Holland did a very nice job and most of the port were interesting. The debacle in Rio was not their fault and they handled it very well.
We would recommend this cruise to other but get off in Buenos Aries.