This was my 7th or 8th cruise and my 4th on HAL. We sailed Princess last year to Alaska, but the ship was huge, the service impersonal, and food was mediocre. HAL reminded me that sticking with them is the best plan
We arrived in Dover tired from our flight and early for boarding. After just a bit of a wait boarded to a much needed lunch on the LIDO. The first of many and just the beginning of what would become one of our favorite places to be. This became so fun for us because of the very friendly crew that service the area. They knew our names and our party and we could always find each other because they were always looking out for us. They even knew what we liked after a few days. This is what HAL does best.
Our first day was a welcome day at sea, which for us end up being busy. We had sailed with this particular cruise director before and he is a delight. We played team trivia, checked out the fitness area, rested, and ate. We were soon to discover that no matter where you go to eat, you will get a great meal. The Tamarind and Pinnacle grill were exceptional and we ate there frequently. The only negative was that with open seating we tended to get poor tables in the Rembrandt. Once they realized we were 'back to backers', staying on the ship for two sailings, our table seemed to improve - maybe just luck of the draw.
Our ports for the following days were very nice, though a bit chilly and rainy at times. The Captain made a nice accomodation for the Princess' wedding in Stockholm and re-routed us to Gothenburg - loved it. St. Petersburg was beautiful and horrible all at the same time. Quite a pretty city, with some very sad areas, too crowded for my taste, and for pete's sake; if they don't want to be nice and friendly to tourists - just don't allow us in. There was no purpose in the long line at customs, but that was Russia not HAL. In fact, I'm pretty certain some stern words were issued as the next day things were smoother.
We had another fun day at sea, disembarked half the ship and one family member in Dover and off we sailed for our second leg of the Journey to Norway and Scotland. What a beautiful area and I would have missed it if we hadn't done the double sailings. Many passengers didn't even realize this was available, but so worth the time. Norway was amazing and Gerainger was my favorite port. Just quaint and small and charming. Scenic cruising wonderful. Scotland was an anticipated delight and lived up to every sight we hoped for.
I traveled with my older mother and my teenage children. All had fun, all were entertained, and all agreed it was the best cruise of a lifetime. The Mainstage crew was not the most talented I've ever sailed with, but the imported entertainment was great. I think what we will always treasure was that HAL trains and seeks out the best crew possible. Our room steward always had a friendly greeting and catered to our needs before we knew we had them. My room service knew of my little quirk for strong coffee and always took care of me. The Lido crew was tops and we'll actually keep in touch with a couple in hopes of sailing with them again.
Any cruise can take you where you want to go. They all serve tons of food, though some better than others. They all have drinks, entertainment, and excursions; what they don't all have is the great complement of crew and the ability to treat you well with a broad smile on their face. Those guys work 7 days a week, over 12 hours a day and sometimes sadly to some very cranky people - just look at a few of the complaining reviews and you'll see what I mean. Their attitude is always happy, ready to go, never tired and they seem at least to really like talking with you. We were sung to, had magic tricks done, and our favorite treats hunted down just because this Lido crew wanted to please. These are the small differences that make or break your experience. I just can't wait to find my next trip aboard HAL.