We stayed at the Le Square Phillips Hotel & Suites for 2 nights before sailing, which we booked separately. (See TripAdvisor reviews.) Each of the couples in our group chose their own pre-cruise accommodation. It is easy to find hotels within one-half to one mile of the port. Highlights:
Embarkation: quick and easy. The process seemed less involved than for other cruises. If you arrive early, you have to wait in the embarkation terminal on folding chairs. Fortunately, we were allowed to board earlier than our cruise docs stated.
First day: We had checked our main bags and so went up to the Lido with carryon. You can leave carryon in a staffed area on the pool deck before passing the pool to get to the Lido. We met up with our friends in the Lido and so spent much of the afternoon there and in investigating the ship until we heard the announcement that our staterooms were ready (around 1:30-2:00). Our luggage arrived within an hour after that. The safety drill was blessedly short - we did not have to put on the life-vests, though we did have to gather at our assigned station on the prom deck.
Itinerary: We chose this one specifically because it included both Montreal, Quebec City and Boston. Montreal is possible because the ship is smaller in size. Only one day at sea. See ports, below.
Ship: it's old, but we didn't encounter any of the problems mentioned by others (such as backed up toilets) or that we encountered on another older HAL ship previously. But it's good the ship is going into drydock because it is not up to date - the bathrooms have no storage, for example. However, the storage in the stateroom was ample. Our stateroom had a tub-shower; we would prefer a walk-in shower. We especially enjoy the Explorations Cafe-Library and Lounge. HAL has the best libraries I've seen on cruise ships. We went up to the Deck 12 "sky" lounge a few times but I found it chilly and the seating and layout uncomfortable.
Food/Dining: Sigh. My husband and I both dislike HAL's food overall, though there are exceptions. We mainly ate in the Lido, because we could meet up with our friends and because we found the Dining Room slow for breakfast. We were usually out at lunch time and ate an afternoon snack in the Lido. There were 2 big problems with the food for us: the lack of variety, especially in the Lido, and the inability to serve oneself as is common on other cruise lines now. The first few days everything was served by the crew, including coffee, tea and water, to protect us from illness. But after that, most food in the Lido is served by crew - they make sandwiches, for example. The bread was often dry and sandwiches were assembled poorly. My over-easy eggs were broken. We thought the baked goods, like muffins, waffles, etc., were dreadful. The cookies and some desserts were quite good, however. Out at the pool, we sampled the pizza - again, dreadful. We ate dinner as a group every night in the Dining Room, where the food was better except for one disastrous night when the fish entree was just plain inedible (our waiter warned us about it and brought other entrees). Other entrees were good, soup was quite good, and there were a variety of desserts every night. The dessert extravaganza was mostly cakes.
Activities: This is a smaller ship, so there weren't the big, glitzy shows of big ships. But I thought the young Maasdam troupe that performed in the theatre was hard-working and multi-talented. A string quartet had a good audience every evening in the Explorations Lounge. Other activities tended toward trivia and name-that-tune. They allow smoking in the casino - bad form.
Passengers: Definitely older. A few toddlers, not many. But this was the oldest age demographic I've seen on a cruise.