We booked this cruise on our last HA cruise taken in the summer of 2010. At the time, we were told we'd never see a better price. So we booked a balcony cabin for about $3000 each. The least expensive suites were, I believe, around $3700 each. AFTER we were locked in by making our final payment, they lowered the suite price to $3000 and balcony to $1800!!! I called HA. They told me to call my agent. My agent said they'd upgrade us to a suite for $3000. When I pointed out that HA lied to me last summer, she called them again. The result: a $50 credit. Big deal. One of my pet peeves is being lied to. So guess I started the cruise with a bit of a chip on my shoulder. This review might reflect that a bit.
We embarked in Barcelona. Very quick process. (NOTE: AFTER you go through security with your carry on luggage, there is a duty free shop. The liquor in that shop was about 1/3 the price of that which I'd ordered through HA and had delivered to the cabin. And you can carry it onboard as you've already been through security screening (no x-ray machine).
There were a number of evidences of cost cutting; for example, the quality of the food. This was our 4th HA cruise. Our first was 4 or 5 years ago. The quality of the food had steadily declined. Examples: the pizza (which I often used to get to have for a quick dinner on occasion to sit on our balcony to watch the sunset) was inedible. The ice-cream tasted like whipped ice-milk of the least expensive variety. The first, tenth & eleventh evening meals were good -- not excellent but very good. The rest were cafeteria quality. Very disappointing. One other disappointment: the baked Alaska celebration was (as usual) planned for the last evening. However, we were in Venice on the last evening and almost everyone stayed in the town. (The information guide recommended this -- stating that most of the day tourists left and the city became much less crowded and more enjoyable.) IMHO, the baked Alaska should have been served the night before. (IMHO, this was poor planning in the part of HA.)
One more comment on the food: definitely try the Tamarind Restaurant. The food is cooked to order. If you don't want it with hot spices, or bean sprouts, they'll make it to your preference. Also, the service there is among the best we've ever received in any restaurant.
One more on food: Vegetarians must come to the dining room in the morning to select their food from a very limited, non-changing menu. Why they can not allow them to order the prior evening is beyond my comprehension.
The ship itself is nice, though not much different in layout, size, etc. than other HA ships of its class. The Tamarind was a nice addition. The cabanas seemed like they were mostly unused.
The cruise director was the best of any HA cruise we've taken. He had put together a VERY good set of evening shows in the main theater -- with the exception of the dancers (who seemed like first year dancing students and detracted from the rest of the show). Fortunately, the shows were centered around a group of 4 male and 2 female singers, 5 of whom were fantastic, the last very good. The piano bar player/singer, the guitarist, & other musicians (other than the classical music group, we mediocre. This might be because it was a port intensive cruise and people didn't care much, or it might be because the 6 singers mentioned above used up more than the usual budget. OR, it might be another example of HA's cost cutting.
One of the best persons on the ship (besides our stateroom attendant -- Manta, the BEST ever -- was Tom. He was not the person in charge of selling you excursions. He'd mention the shops. But more importantly, in his talks he'd tell you what to do if you didn't want to take an excursion. For example, we'd been to Florence and didn't want to take a whirlwind bus tour. We just wanted to get from the port to Florence. (It's about a 75 minute ride.) So when I went down to talk with Tom (He's very available) he handed me a sheet with all the details of how to catch the train to Florence and back. For my wife and I it cost about 35-40% of what an excursion would have cost and we didn't have to be crammed in a bus with 50 others and marched around like ants following a guide.
Debarkation in Venice. If you're staying over in EU on your own and traveling by train, HA does a TERRIBLE job of helping you get to the train station. We spoke with a HA rep in the baggage area who suggested taking a water taxi (euro 100). When I balked at that, she finally remembered that HA can transfer your luggage for euro 5 per bag to the train station. However, one bag was full of valuable electronics, the other medicine and jewelry. (Both were 21" roll ons and heavy) There was no way I was going to check those. So we checked the two with luggage, and had to lug our 21" bags to the people carrier, then to the train station which requires lugging your carriage about 80 yards across a bridge with steps -- no ramps for luggage!!! By the time we reached the train station (more steps -- no ramps), we were exhausted and my shirt was soaking wet with perspiration. IMHO, HAL should arrange easier transfer for those going to the train station.