Thoroughly enjoyed our recent 17-day cruise from Barcelona, Spain, to Ft. Lauderdale, Florida.
BOOKING & FLIGHT: Arrived two days early for an opportunity to see and enjoy Barcelona. Our hotel and travel package was booked through HAL and we stayed at the AC Diplomat in Barcelona. Our flight was booked with Air France and was very uncomfortable in coach. The seating was so close that when the passenger in the forward seat reclined their seat back it actually touched my chest, until I too placed the seat back further back. This made eating almost impossible and in eight hours only one trip to the facilities was possible. Our recommendation, fly business class if you can afford it. The flight into Paris was late and the one hour transfer time for our Barcelona flight reduced to twenty minutes. Air France was on the spot with transportation for our group and ensured a direct drive to the next terminal, otherwise we would have been on our own to walk across the complex. The Air France Airbus flight to Barcelona was pure luxury with all the seating space anyone could ask for. The arrival procedure at Barcelona Airport was great with HAL representatives waiting at the door and assisting with the limited customs procedures and immediate transportation to the hotel.
PORT ACCOMMODATIONS: The AC Diplomat is a lovely and very modern hotel with very comfortable beds, a luxurious bathroom furnished completely in marble, fridge. fully stocked with complementary beverages each day and cable television. The heating and air conditioning system was great. With the HAL booking the free breakfast was very nice.
EMBARKATION: Bus transportation and city tour was provided from the AC Diplomat, although it took five buses for all HAL guests. The downside was that all 1,800 plus passengers seemed to arrive at the very small terminal at the port within the same hour. The processing was quick, taking no more than 30 minutes, at which time we were surprised with an upgrade from a AA Suite to a SS Suite.
SUITE ASSIGNMENT: The SS Suite was large, especially with the additional shower and sink in the bathroom. The three closets were spacious and the drawer space in the desk adequate. Plenty of room under the King sized bed for luggage storage. The larger size television and DVD player made watching the occasional movie more comfortable.
PUBLIC AREAS: We missed the larger public rooms of the Statendam. Even the Ocean Bar of the Vista Class ship was smaller. The casino was larger and well designed for gaming variety. The Atrium lacks the style of previous Holland America ships. Having a bar in the first level of the Atrium, adjacent to the customer service areas of the ship was odd. I did use the bar area here for Internet access with the best wireless signal in any public area. The garish color design in most public areas made us wonder who selected the interior fabric and style.
DINNING: We found it necessary to request a table reassignment four nights into our cruise. The noise level in the upper dinning room adjacent to the serving area was unacceptable. The menu was good to exceptional most evenings, but the soup and salads lacked any excitement. Several evenings the meat dish was not cooked to order and one evening the lamb dish was so undercooked that the head waiter was visibly upset when we pointed out the blood red lamb. The steak orders were never cooked or served correctly. Breakfast in the Lido was good, although the menu choices lacked the variety of previous HAL cruises. Several breakfast items ran short after the 15th day of the 17 day cruise. Our servers were very friendly and quick to correct any problems brought to their attention.
TOURS: Barcelona--took advantage of the Red and Blue Bus Line Tours in the city. A great way to see the sights at your leisure for only about $13 (depending when you bought your Euros). Would like to have had two more days in Barcelona. Holland America is now charging $5 per person for each direction off the ship into Tarragona. The same applied for Funchal, Madeira and the Canary Islands. The Casablanca, Morocco city bus tour was less than pleasant, having boarded the oldest and dirtiest bus available to our group and our tour guide was well past his retirement age and had obvious respiratory problems. The biggest problem was that he was unwilling to answer most questions about the tour route. The St. Maarten tour was delayed due to poor communication and a lack of buses. We ended up in a last resort transportation alternative for the tour. The tour guide blamed the ship and the ship blamed the tour group. Not acceptable. The tour on Half Moon Cay was canceled due to water clarity conditions, no notice and little effort was made to refund the fee.
ENTERTAINMENT: The shows were lively, well designed and performed. The variety of guest entertainment good to excellent. The casino was the best we have seen on board a ship with plenty of tournament action and instruction from the casino personnel. We did see quite a few people hit sizable jackpots and had a good gaming experience. The Karaoke competition was great with several nights of great fun.
We are looking forward to our next Vista class experience on the Oosterdam in February '05.