We are a couple in our early 60's who travel frequently. We have also cruised previously the last being a transatlantic in a Penthouse Suite on the Oceania Regatta. This cruise had as its main purpose the visiting of ports rather than the boat itself. We had booked a VA cabin but shortly prior to embarking were offered an upgrade to a Superior Veranda at a substantial discount which we accepted.
We arrived at the port at about 11.15 am and processing commenced very shortly after that. We were on board by 11.45 am. Lunch at the lido and cabins were available at 1.30 pm. The process all went smoothly.
The cabin was excellent and nearly as large as on the Regatta. In fact the bathroom was larger. The cabin staff were excellent, in fact all staff were excellent. We did not really miss having a butler.
Overall we would say that the standard of service and the attitude of all staff was very high particularly when you take into account there were 2,000 passengers.
Again food standards were high. Food in the Lido was fresh and varied. The only problem in the Lido was difficulty in getting food. Most of the time it was a little chaotic with people queuing up at different stations trying to see what was available there. As most days were port days there was usually a rush at breakfast. Eventually we chose to have room service breakfast. We had one breakfast in the MDR which also was good. We also had one meal in the Pinnacle grill. This should not be missed. Standards of service and food match any high class restaurant.
The itinerary was a "one off". Our first port was Istanbul then Anatalya and Iskenderun in Turkey, Haifa and Ashdod in Israel, Alexandria in Egypt then to Kusadasi/Ephesus in Turkey and back to Athens. For most ports we had booked private tours with a few other couples. In our opinion this is the only way to do it. Each day was an intensive history lesson. The only port in which we used a ships tour was Iskenderun as no private tours were available. This was a tour to the Mosaic Museum at Antioch. While the Museum was interesting no tour of such a number can give you the insight you receive on a private tour.
For 90% of the time HAL was fantastic. Where it fell apart was in the organisation or lack of it in relation to assembly of passengers. The strange part is they could organise disembarking at the end of the cruise.
For example it was announced that each passenger had to present to Israeli Immigration on the ship. The announcement specified respective half hour blocks for each deck. Being on 8th deck our half hour block was first. When we got to the deck to be seen by immigration most of the ship was there and there was simply chaos. I spoke to an employee who agreed but said there was nothing HAL could do about it as it would only annoy the people who were there even though they were out of turn.
On Port Excursion days again no real organisation. The ship announced that people who had purchased HAL Tours were to disembark from the front of the boat and others from the middle. When we got to the centre gangway, as we had booked private tours, the lines were full of people who had booked ship tours. To make matters worse the ship stopped the elevators at level 1 meaning passengers had to walk down a flight of stairs to Deck A where the gangways were placed. This was a good idea to break the rush at the gangways. However the lobby around the stairs became blocked as there were people in wheelchairs exiting the elevators with of course nowhere to go. This was the main area in which HAL failed. The only other failure was to have speakers giving a briefing on ports to be visited and their history. The only talks were in fact selling ships tours.
Overall a good boat in good order and an excellent itinerary. We would travel HAL again if the itinerary were interesting.