We read on Cruise Critics this was an old ship but we had no idea what shape it was in. When the seas were rough it creaks worse than an old woman's bones. The first night the fire alarm went off because the dryer caught fire, it was brought under control quickly. The exterior is pretty rusted in many places but they have a crew of about five working on scraping and puttying and painting so you constantly have workers around and the smells of paint and varnish.
Room: Since we signed up late room selection was limited and we ended up under the upper floor of Deluxe Suites and at the front making the rough seas felt even more. Sadly the folks upstairs were running track so there was constant thumping. Our room was spacious but not like some of the newer ships, the furniture worn and the bathroom sliding door had to have a sock stuck into it to keep it from rattling all night when closed. Our stewards kept it quite clean but we found a tube of ointment in the sheets on our thirteenth day of cruising that WAS NOT OURS! Needless to say it freaked me out since I had hoped they changed the sheets between us and the last occupants. I just kept telling myself not to think about it. Plenty of closet space but the bed was too low to put our suitcases under so took up room in the closet on the floor. The mattress was oh so old not like the newer ships, it was so bowed from wear I kept feeling I would roll off the bed, also two singles together so lump in the middle. The balcony was very shallow and no table to have lunch on, bummed hubby out totally, a single chair with rusty tiny table so gross, and a couple of rattan chairs and small table. The TV on the bed side was tiny so we never used it; the one in the living room side was flat screen and Bose speakers very nice. On sea days we watched TV series of "Rome" and "The Tudors" from the ship library for free, comes with the suite. Sure would have been nice if they had full couches instead of leather loveseats, too short to lie on comfortably, there was more than enough room to accommodate a couch. Toilet was separate which I liked, bath fine but side of tub are quite high to step over but there is a handle to hold on to.
Dining. Well...this is a huge problem on this ship. We used room service from the La Fontaine also included in our suite, for the life of me I could not get them to take the order correctly and bring everything we asked for. Sometimes they forgot the bread but brought the butter other times no butter but we got bread, salad hard to just get a plain garden salad with ranch. I could not get them to take the trays away, at one point I asked the young man to remove the tray from the previous night when he delivered breakfast and he said someone else would come get it, they did not. I called for tray pick up like instructed but no one ever came. This chef used mushrooms and seafood constantly and I eat neither so very limited foods I could find to eat. Breakfast at the Pinnacle Grill was nice but again orders were messed up and for some reason they couldn't cook my steak or eggs right, a first in all our sailings with HAL. The manager of PG was excellent man very hard working but what can you do with a staff that seems a drift. The Lido...nightmare! We only tried to eat down there four times out of the whole cruise. No seating, with people using the area to read books! The staff was very lackadaisical, I had to clear a table off to sit down while one young man stood leaning on the railing watching the tenders returning instead of clearing tables. No silverware anywhere, salad bowls empty and where was everyone??? Pizza they would not put out so you just took a slice you had to stand in line and ask for a sliver. This ship only has the La Fontaine, Pinnacle Grill and Lido so limited locations. We also have access to the Neptune Lounge, a small lounge only for suite and penthouse guests. It has books and games to play plus TV. They offer some snacks and breakfast foods if you really don't want to go anywhere and don't want anyone to bring you food. We ate some of the snacks between meals and they were good but cakes and cookies tasteless. The coffee machine was being worked on when we arrived and usually my husband's favorite reason for the suites is the coffee that has always been much better than even the Explorer Lounge. Well this time it was horrible! It was bitter not even two packets of sugar and cream added fixed it. I ended up going to tea instead. In other Neptune Lounges the attendant normally even made our coffee but this young man just sat there on his computer. He did order our movies and handled our passports efficiently when we had to hand them in and retrieve them but he did not go out of his way at any time. They do have a small balcony so if something is on the other side you can use it to photograph from that side of the ship.
Excursions. We signed up for the ships excursions, we once had a situation that we nearly missed the ship and we determined the stress of that we would not opt to use private companies.
Sochi, Russia: Stalin's Summer House, had to have one to get on shore and this one wasn't worth the trip, just a house with two rooms and a manikin of Stalin at his desk and his billiard room. Also a trip up a hill with some booths but not in season so most not open.
Batumi, Georgia-this city was a bit of a mess. The streets and sidewalks all torn up all around the ship with chuck holes in the road and it was raining. The ship bus tour drove for a bit to the fortress nothing much there but the walls, the museum was items glued together. We went to another museum it also was a bunch of glued together pieces nothing spectacular. The folk dancing was pretty cool! Watch for aggressive beggers.
Trabzon, Turkey no tour, it is quite a small place so we walked but the historical place up the hill was locked we did like the museum but it was small.
Sinop, Turkey- no tour again very small we walked around and purchased some bread and some of those circles with sesame seeds baked on top, they are great.
Sevastopol, Ukraine- some cool statutes here we walked around no tour. There is a great cathedral bring a scarf heads must be covered and no photos if you ask.
Monemvasia, Greece-THIS IS A TWO HOUR DRIVE on a bus with very tight fitting seats. We took the tender to go a shore, the bus picked us up at 7:30 after sitting in the showroom from 6:40 am then drove until 9:00 to stop to use the restroom. Sorry but this close to breakfast and no restroom that was painful! We continued on to this hill with some ruins in it but not what I was expecting. Our guide determined she wanted to speak so much we only got to see two small churches still under repair. The other guide managed to get his people up the hill higher to see more. Then the long drive back and all you see are olive groves and citrus groves very boring. Many people were angry about this one. We got back in time to board the tender and get back on the ship.
I had read another review where a person said they took a cruise with HAL and there were so many old people. After taking three cruises I could not understand where this person was coming from, all our previous cruises there was a pretty equal mix of ages except for small children which was next to none. Well this cruise was totally different. I never saw so many people physically impaired before. I did feel like I was in an old folks home. I don't mean to bash the elderly, if you can afford it then cruise but some are down right rude. They sign up for excursions they cannot keep up with, or handle the marble high steeps although they are forewarned. This causes the tours to slow down and we all miss parts due to the time restraint. On one tour it took nearly fifteen minutes for everyone to board the bus because some could not handle the steps. Many of those with canes limping along would push to the front and slow everyone down I guess to keep from being left behind. One person mentioned that the high rate of elderly on this ship is because it is so small they do not have to walk so far to get their meals.
We did take part in the Walk for the Cure and it was nice so many came out. Sadly the deck is so skinny only two people can fit abreast so hard to get around especially with the repair crew working on the exterior of the ship. The back end of the deck the lights were out so early morning walking after the crew did the spraying off of the decks you could not see back there at all. The shuffleboard didn't work because of the non-skid strips and it was laid out across the walking path of other cruisers so we didn't get to play but they had Bochco ball that Italian game but of course we didn't know how to play, also ping pong.
Service: I felt the crew was not the best. They were polite with smiles and hellos but to ask for something you were sometimes ignored. Our room stewards cleaned our room but at times we felt rushed to get out of the room and returned to find them still in there cleaning, on other cruises we never saw our room steward, they were like magic, cleaning and never being seen. Laundry they did pretty good most times and it is included in the price of the suite, but there were times it was poorly pressed and folded when clearly marked to be hung. They were really quick to get my husbands suit cleaned which we appreciated.
Needless to say we had such high hopes of this cruise after paying so much which was double what we normally pay. I won't sail on this ship again.
The same company picked us up and drove us around but he did not do any guiding himself basically he is a Taxi. I would recommend using Hop & Ride it is cheaper and hits the same places. Afterwards we were driven to the ship and boarded.
Istanbul, Turkey-Istanbul Deluxe Part II-we took this because it was a Tuesday and the Palace is closed on Tuesdays except for ship excursions. It was alright a bit slow due to older cruisers walking up steps. We liked the harum portion very pretty.