Our group of ten consisted of family and friends (6 male, 4 female), aged between 24 to 56 years. Most of us have cruised before. My wife, our son and I have cruised with Carnival and Royal Caribbean several times before. This is our 4th 12 night cruise in Europe and our first cruise with HAL.
Ship Info : Lovely new ship - that's why we picked this cruise. Small atrium area - not as spectacular as other ships we have been on. Generally, the dEcor was tasteful and functional. Lots of very comfortable places to sit alone or to spend time together.
Service : Room stewards were fabulous - always helpful and accommodating. Waiting staff were attentive and very professional.
Tuxedo hire was a disaster. On Day 1, we purchased 6 tuxedos for the men, but only 1 tuxedo that fitted could be found. We are all fairly average in physique. Consequently, five men in our group had to attend the formal nights underdressed. We had been given promises and had been charged for the tuxedos, but it was right up to the hour before we had dinner on the first formal night that we realised that promises were empty. As it was, most people didn't even bother getting dressed up. Very disappointing compared to the tuxedo service and formal nights on other cruises.
Internet service was slow and a little expensive.
Laundry Service - We opted for the $85 Unlimited Laundry package. We got good value from this. However, others experienced some problems. Sometimes, the returns took 2-3 days. Clothing was not pressed (is that an extra charge?).
The Front Desk are the single portal to all services. For instance, we were unable to contact the tailor or the laundry directly. This caused long queues and waiting times. On other cruises we could deal directly with the separate services.
Port & Shore Excursions : Awesome ports. Split was interesting. Shopping around the Diocletian Palace is great. Athens is always good fun. Although the new Museum was a little disappointing - wonderful building but a little thin on exhibits. Mykonos - Party town - don't miss Paradise Beach after dark !! Istanbul - Awesome! The Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia and the Palace are just breath-taking. Also don't miss the Grand Bazaar - hours and hours of stalls. Catch the light rail from the dock to everywhere. Kusadasi - We travelled to Pamukkale- the Cotton Castles - the highlight of the cruise. The markets in Kusadasi are good too. Santorini - Plan to get to shore later than expected (thanks to HAL). Catch the Cable Car up. We hired open-top Smart cars - the roads are chaotic and the beaches are poor. More fun hanging around town. Beware of the trip back down to the tenders. Allow plenty of time. The Cable Car had a queue 90 minutes long. The donkey trail down was quicker, but very slippery and very aromatic !! Katakalon - small town. The beach 4km away is excellent. Hire a quad or a scooter for next to nothing. Last chance for cheap Ouzo.
Tenders: We had tender services at Split and Santorini. HAL have a policy of giving priority to passengers going on HAL excursions. Consequently, if you were going ashore independently, you had to wait and wait and wait. For instance, at Santorini we "docked" at 8am, HAL excursions were given priority and had exclusive use of the tenders until 9:30, when independent passengers could start to queue. We were at the start of the queue, but still didn't get to shore until 10:30. We then had to queue for a Cable Car to the town. HAL were not interested in the fact that we had booked a private excursion for 9am. On top of this, HAL only revealed this "priority" arrangement late the previous night in the newsletter. Therefore we had little opportunity to change our arrangements.
Stateroom : Well set out, with plenty of drawer and wardrobe space, but lacked lighting in the wardrobe. The walls are thin - we could clearly hear conversations, doors slamming and footsteps outside. Warning, Warning - do not book the following rooms: Cabins 7129, 7125 : a loud mechanical banging noise near the rear wall ceiling, starts randomly at about 4:00am and continues until the late morning. HAL could not identify the cause and we were moved after 5 sleepless nights. Cabin 5024: the air-cond was broken and was stuck on the coldest setting. It was like a meat safe and is impossible to sleep. I believe the Front desk already knew this room was problematic, but still moved us there. Both moves we had to do ourselves with no assistance and this wasted two mornings. Our final cabin, 6136 was great - we finally could sleep after 6 terrible nights. The Front Desk did not appear to care that this was inconvenient for us. Perhaps they are understaffed. We even had to forgo time ashore in order to try and catch up on sleep.
Dining : We opted for Open Seating Dining - what a mistake. Although the food was excellent, the dining room booking system seemed to be tedious and the Madredie appeared to have difficulty driving the software. We had great difficulty getting a table for 10, when tables for 11 sat empty all night. Consequently we had dinner at the Tamarind on a couple of occasions. It was very pleasant, nice food, but twice was probably enough. Even here, we had to book for a 6pm or 9:30pm seating. Again, the majority of the tables were not used all night. We were unable to book the Pinnacle Grill - it too, looked as though it had empty tables. Perhaps people book and just don't turn up? Dining on the Lido deck was fine. Good variety and combinations of tasty food. Seating was ample.
Entertainment : Good quality entertainment. The comedian was genuinely funny and the singers and entertainers were very professional. The band was super. Ample, comfortable seating in the main auditorium. The entertainer in the Piano Bar was outstanding. He really engaged the crowd and had a good repertoire. Most people on board were fairly conservative, hence places like the Northern Lights disco were very quiet and totally died before midnight. The Casino was small, but adequate. The croupiers were good, but again the atmosphere was quiet. It appeared that 90% of the 2000 passengers went to bed at 10pm !!
Disembarkation : smooth, efficient and quick. We opted for the 9:45 exit.
Summary : Disappointing response from HAL to the problems we had with our cabin(s) and suit hire etc. No real apology and no compensation, which spoilt our experience. HAL doesn't appear to be interested in problems, just maximising profit. Unfortunately, this means we will not cruise with HAL again. Better fun and value for money with other cruise lines.