DH and I have cruised on several other lines including Holland America Lines. This was our second cruise with HAL. We decided to try a midsize ship again after two previous cruises on smaller ships. We've cruised the Aegean, the Mediterranean, transited the Panama Canal, one transatlantic crossing and the Caribbean. This would be our first cruise in the southern hemisphere. We used our local travel agent.
Travel To Port of Embarkation
We flew on V Australia from LAX via Melbourne to Auckland, New Zealand. The flight was good, except our Melbourne connection was delayed due to the crew not advising all passengers the correct location to pick up their boarding passes. LAX couldn't issue our connecting passes even though it was Pacific Blue, another part of Virgin. That was the only glitch.
Hotel Info (if any)
We arrived 3 days prior to boarding the ship and stayed at the Hyatt Regency Auckland, with very nice accommodations and an excellent brunch in the mornings. The location was close enough to walk on foot to the Auckland Skytower and other downtown sights.
Embarkation & Stateroom We arrived at the pier in a taxi and the staff tagged our luggage so we didn't have to use the thin paper tags we'd been given by HAL. This worked out beautifully. There was no actual line to board and the staff were swift and courteous in processing us.
Our outside stateroom offered plenty of closet and storage space, better than I've found on any of our other cruises. The window over the bed required a bit of maneuvering on your knees to see everything outside. The bed was comfortable as was the high quality bedding. Our two cabin stewards kept things quite clean, were mostly invisible, but always friendly when we did see them. I found dried chewing gum on the sides of my expensive leather shoes upon returning from port and our steward Novie was able to clean them perfect as good as new in a matter of hours.
We found the TV offered cruise/shore excursion updates but we've experienced better on other ships. Standard info on the stateroom desk was adequate. We did the usual "new" passenger wandering to get our bearings. We appreciaed the elevator mats changed to state the day of the week as a gentle reminder.
Dining Since we had "open" dining all our evening meals were on the lower floor of the Rotterdam dining room. Service 80% of the time was very good, 5% average, and 15% outstanding. We especially enjoyed the "theme" nights: once with the chefs and staff singing and marching into the dining room and, the other night was an Indonesian theme with costumes and beautiful Indonesian dEcor. Both Christmas and New Year's Eve had special presentation meals. The vegetables were often overcooked for our taste, otherwise, food preparation was very good to excellent. The variety was good. In comparison to our first HAL cruise years ago in the Caribbean we'd rate a big improvement in food quality.
Activities I won a free hydro-wrap at the Spa, which was delightful.
Service The staff were polite, friendly and sincere in their efforts to attend to our needs. We only ran into one server who seemed to rush us at the end of our dinner. Many times we were engaged in conversatio with staff who always had a cheerful attitude.
Entertainment The International (crew and staff) Christmas Choir sang on Dec 24, a true delight. The New Year's Eve bash was quite fun with a huge balloon drop at midnight, champagne and fun hats and noisemakers. The ballroom was packed with plenty of good singing. During the rest of the evenings the ship singers and dancers were a mixed bag, but mostly very good with plenty of high energy and enthusiasm, which made up for one female singer who struggled with some material. One stand-out performer Aussie Annie Francis was fabulous. They all did a stand-up job when the ship ran into very rough seas.
Port & Shore Excursions We booked three through the ship and all were better than we expected. In Tauranga we toured the Rotorua area, in Christchurch the High Country Explorer, and in Burnie, Tasmania the Wings Animal Park. We did walkabouts in the other ports, though both Gisborne and Oban at Stewart Island has little to see.
Disembarkation Our tags were in our stateroom as expected on the last night aboard. The "silent" disembarkation was a nice change from past experiences on other lines. There weren't constant PA announcements of the time. Passengers left the ship at their designated times and we didn't experience any crowds. Free carts were available for our luggage, however the taxi line was quite a wait to our hotel.
Summary This was our first Christmas/New Year's cruise and 1st time down under. The only difficulty was very rough seas while crossing the Tasman Sea and leaving Oban, Stewart Island, something unavoidable when you're on the high seas. We had a wonderful cruise. In regard to the ship and its crew and staff we'd give them an A+ overall, including our dear captain who kept reminding all of us to "wash your hands!"