We arrived the day before the cruise and stayed at the Herald Square Hotel in Manhattan. It was a whopping $95 plus tip cab ride from JFK for the 5 of us. We enjoyed our stay in this area very much. It was about a 15 minute cab ride to the terminal in the morning, with a very easy embakation. Cabins were ready as soon as we boarded, around 11:30am. We found the ship to be in great shape, seeing serious wear only in the teen "oasis" area. One note is that there is only one pool on the ship, contrary to cruise line literature. The Retreat pool has been removed and replaced with 3 hot tubs. It's nice that towels are provided on deck and on the gangway on port days. (As an aside, why can't cruise ships have some sort of "cubby hole" type area by the pool so you don't have to take up a deck chair just to put your clothes and towel on while you're in the pool? You know, like little open bins to stack your things in. Just an idea... Sometimes chair hogs get a bad rap for this unintentional reason.) Our cabin was very nice and clean, if a little warm all week. Our steward Imbuh was the best we have had in all our cuises. We saw him several times each day, and he always called us by name (refusing to use our first names. "I'll call you Mrs. Bolen, if you don't mind.") We liked, though did not use, the list of DVDs that were available to be delivered to the cabin for free. We were impressed by the movies shown in the theatre and Retreat, as they were quite new, and "good" titles. (Limitless, Unknown, Source Code, Tangled, Megamind, Harry Potter, etc.) We attended one show, a magic/comedy show featuring Jeff Peterson, which we all really enjoyed.
We knew this cruise was going to be a different experience for us, as my parents put their foot down and flat refused to use the main dining room. They do not enjoy the lengthy process there, and have always bragged about how on HAL you can get the same food in the Lido as is served in the dining room. While we found this to be true for the most part, what HAL has apparently changed is how the dinner meal is served. Apparently, the system used to be that you would place your dinner order at the front of the line, then proceed to make your own salad and find your seat, then your food would be made to order and served to you at your table. Now, it is no different that going to Golden Corral, except that they strictly control your portion. We were extremely dissatisfied with the Lido, but honestly that may be simply because it is so different than we are used to on RCCL.
During dinner, the menu is pretty much the same as in the MDR, with a few differences (no lobster, fewer seafood appetizers, no fancy desserts ((a cruise without creme brulee and key lime pie?! Egads!)) .) After day 2, you are permitted to serve yourself salad and cold appetizers, then you go to the hot food stations to be served the entree and hot sides. I have 2 complaints here: if you want, say, soup and a steak, you must wait through 2 lines to get that. Line 1 was soups and plain pastas with usually 3 sauces to choose from. Then you leave that line to get in line 2 which has the meat selections and hot side dishes. There was usually NY strip steak or filet, a fish, and lamb or pork. Don't get too excited about the steak however. They are not done to order, so you may get well done one night and rare the next, but I sure couldn't seem to get the medium rare that I wanted, plus they are paper thin, with the srip being about 1/4 inch thick and filet 1/2 inch. There is also very rarely A-1 sauce to be found. It was available on the first night, in one tablespoon serving size, and on the second night I had to ask a waiter to find some for me, but after that, I simply did without as there was none to be found. So, if you are an A-1 fan, bring your own. Seriously. Now, I know no one is going to starve on a cruise, and I've always rolled my eyes at reviews that said what I'm about to say, but in this case, it's true: the portion control on this ship seriously felt like penny pinching. Dinner was one very small piece of meat with very small servings of side dishes, and not much of a selection to choose from. We absolutely HATED eating in the Lido, not just for (but especially at) dinner, but for all 3 meals. Yes, you can ask for more servings, but who wants to do that? Also, we found that if we were not in line promptly at 5:30, many items sold out and were not replaced. Popular items like shrimp cocktail and chocolate mousse for example, never got refilled, so if we got there later than opening, those items were already gone.
Also, parents, be advised that there is no kid food to be found. Our 5 year old lived on fruit and cookies all week. There were the occasional french fries, and we discovered grilled cheese and ham sandwiches at lunch, but the grill closes at 5:00, so no hot dogs or burgers for dinner, and we never saw any kind of chicken nuggets/strips, or any other kind of kid food at all. There was mac & cheese one night, and spaghetti nightly, but again, be there early or the sauce will be gone. Pizza was available. We liked the grill, and caught on that one of use would order both of our entrees, then the other would order a side of fries, to supplement the 8 or 9 fries that came with the burger or dog. We found the Lido lunch offerings to be strange. The sandwiches were good, but 3 tablespoons of tuna salad on bread is a little stingy. Chips were sometimes available with them, sometimes not. Only water and tea are available to drink, and in tiny juice glasses at that. We walked ourselves to death just getting plates and 4 glasses each to the table. Also, it seemed that every plate was scalding hot. Salad plates were so hot that the lettuce was warm and wilted by the time we got to the table, and the hot food plates were sometimes so hot that I literally had to set them down to cool before I could carry them to the table. As well, the cold food selections were never cold. Salad dressings were not refridgerated and sat on the bar, not in ice.
Breakfast was especially annoying, as there are 2 made to order egg lines, and you must wait through those even if you don't want eggs. Line 1 is for scrambled, fried, over easy, etc. eggs, but also in that line is all the bacon, sausage, hash browns and the like, and line 2 is all sorts of eggs benedict variations, but also includes all the breads. So, you wait for everyone in front of you in line 1 to get their eggs cooked to order, even if all you want is bacon and hash browns, then move over to line 2, where you wait for everyone's made to order eggs benedict, when all you want is a bagel. Meanwhile, your hot food from line 1 is getting cold, and will get colder because the plate they hand you in line 2 is too hot to carry to the table right away. Every day. And forget getting hot toast to eat with your hot eggs, should you want them. One or the other will be cold because of this line situation. And actually, I use the term "line" loosely. No one seems to know where to stand to form a line, so it ends up just being a jumble of people.
The dessert bar would empty early, so we learned to grab what we wanted when we first came in or it would be gone by the time we were ready for it. We did love the hand scooped ice cream, but again, once it's gone, it's gone, including cones. We found the entire Lido situation to just be annoying, and we actually dreaded mealtimes for having to deal with this. Meal times were also inconvenient. On sea days, there was nothing in the Lido between 2-5:30pm and daily between 8-10:30pm On a positive note, for the most part all the food we tried was excellent. We used room service once, and enjoyed the club sandwich. They will not deliver drinks, however. We also tried Caneletto on night 4 and enjoyed it so much we tried to get in there each subsequent night, but were not able to. Food and service there was excellent, and free to boot! We waited at the end of the meal to be given a "bill" as an opportunity to leave an extra tip, but were not given that option. Canelleto was the dining highlight of the trip.
One "must have" for us on a ship is a full court basketball court. We enjoy the Voyager class ships on RCCL for this reason, and realize that it's difficult to live up to that standard for the smaller ships, but we booked the Veendam based on deck plans showing the full court BB. What they don't tell you is that the court is only open from 2-5pm and 9-10pm, and that you must go to deck 11 to see if a ball is already on the court, and if not, then go all the way back down to deck 4 at the other end of the ship to the library (?!)to attempt to check out a ball, only to be told that there should have already been a ball placed there, so go back up to deck 11 and look. Everyday. The nets on the rims were ragged and falling apart. We really missed this important part of our cruising experience, but the limited hours did mean that there were always enough players for a game when the court was open.
Previous reviews are accurate in regards to problems with elevators and plumbing. While we had no plumbing problems for the most part in our cabin, 692, my parents in 417 were in the lucky area that floods. They had only damp carpet starting on I think day 3, but their neighbors had inches of standing water. There were industrial fans running in their hallway all day and night, which made sleeping difficult for them. They did not complain, but were given a bottle of wine anyway. During the time of their flood, our toilet would not flush on command, but would flush when no one was in the room. It was good for a laugh, but was a little nerve wracking if it still hadn't flushed before we left the cabin. That only lasted for 2 days. As far as elevators, there are 4 in each end of the ship. On our end, 1 elevator never worked for the entire cruise, as previously reported, and by the last day, we were down to only 1 that did work. Two other annoying things about them: the screen on the top of the elevator that shows what floor you are on does not show the floor number, it shows that floor's name. So, we had to memorize that we were on the Main deck instead of looking for deck 5. That led to much confusion for everyone for the whole week. Also, the floor buttons are not the typical push buttons, they are more like a touch screen. So, it you have someone who leans against the row of buttons, you are going to get to stop at every floor. Yeah, that was fun. After a few times, we learned to maneuver ourselves to stand in front of them so it wouldn't keep happening to unsuspecting people. Also, there are A LOT of elderly people on this ship, who use the elevator to go up or down 1 floor. We tried to use it only to go from our cabin on 5, I mean Main, up to 11, I mean Lido. To go back down or to other floors, it's easier to walk. One thing about cabins numbers: you may want to study the deck plans before you go, as the cabin numbering makes no sense. Our cabin, 692, was on deck 5, instead of deck 6 like you would think. Cabin 417 was on deck 6. The numbering system is screwy.
I found the library the have an extensive collection of books, including lots of new releases. The shops were dull. My daughter enjoyed Camp Hal very much, and was there pretty much every minute it was open. They seem to be more "open play" as opposed to planned activities than Carnival or RCCL, but she loved it just the same.
As far as Bermuda, we just loved it. This was our second trip there, so we knew to use the bus system. The tender in St. George was as previously reported, slow but adequate. We walked to the Unfinished Church and Fort St. Catherine, about a 15 minute uphill walk, but not bad once we found the way. We did not bring beach wear off the ship with us, but walking past Tobacco Bay on the way to the fort was too much to pass up. We decided that swimming in our clothes wasn't really that tacky, right? Next to the fort is Achilles Bay, which is where we ended up. It was just beautiful, uncrowded, clean, calm and warm, with beautiful rock formations to the left side. We waded right in and our clothes were pretty much dry by the time were were back to the tender. There is a restaurant at the beach entrance. This wasn't a bad walk for our age and "somewhat fit"ness, but be sure to buy a bottle of water in town first. There is a snowcone booth at the church (brilliant idea.) Note that most stores in St. George were closed between 1-2pm, so if you plan on shopping before the 2:30pm ferry like we did, there's not much open at that time. We were glad we had packed some snacks in my purse, but would have loved to have found another bottle of water. The drugstore in town does have cheap ice cream bars for a nice treat, but again, they close at lunch. T shirts seemed cheaper here than in Hamilton.
In Hamilton we took the bus to BAMZ, as we'd been there 7 years ago and knew our daughter would like it. The zoo is pretty much closed down right now, with only I think 3 exhibits open while they are renovating, so that was disappointing, but the aquarium was very nice, and the playground gave us a little bit of a break. I might suggest skipping this until the zoo is fully open. Today we were smart enough to bring beach gear, and stopped at Shelly Bay, near BAMZ. I can't say enough about this beach. It was wonderful! I chose this beach because I had read it was good for children. We got in the water and walked straight out until we go tired of walking, and never got above waist deep water. It was perfect! There is also a large, and probably the nicest playground I've every seen here as well. Wonderful place. I might suggest changing into your swimsuit and using the restroom before you arrive here, as it does have the nastiest restrooms I have ever encountered. No snack facilities are available.
Wednesday we took the bus to Crystal Caves. It was a long ride, probably 40 minutes. The cave was beautiful, but it is a 30 minute tour that is basically a short walk down stairs into the cave, then standing in the main cavern for a few minutes, then walking back up the stairs. For $20, I didn't feel I got my monies worth, though it was beautiful. For an extra $8 you can see the adjacent Fantasy cave. Honestly, if taking the bus, I would do both caves to make it worth that long bus ride. There is a snack bar and small gift shop. Wednesday evening we got off the ship for Harbour Nights street fair. We didn't buy anthing, but really enjoyed walking around. There is lots of food, bouncy houses for kids, handmade jewelery, music, and it's just interesting to see the street closed down after dark. If you see something you want, buy it, as we did not see the same items in the stores the next day. As far as the bus passes, we bought the 2 day passes for $20 each, but should have just bought tokens as we went. That would have been cheaper.
Friday night as we left Hamilton, and Saturday at sea until around noon we had very rough seas. There were many people seasick. The crew advised that this was typical.
We enjoyed this cruise, but will spend the extra next time to go back to RCCL. We did not like HAL's Lido experience, though I will say their food is better than RCCL or Carnival, just a pain in the rear to get. (I did not review HAL's policy of no touching anything in the Lido for the first 2 days, as it's been covered in previous reviews. Suffice it to say, it's a pain.) I like the handwashing machines, but they're only as good as the people who use them. It's the people who DON'T use them that are also not covering their mouths when they cough, or wiping their nose then picking up the salad spoon... there's only so much they can do. Those first 2 days really set the Lido off in a bad light to us. For this cruise more than any other one, the reviews on cruise critic were spot on. I think if HAL would read these reviews and act on the issues that bear repeating, this ship would be much more pleasant. Fix the elevators and plumbing for goodness sake. We did find the crowd to be MUCH older that we expected, but didn't find the entertainment or ship itself offputting in that respect. There was enough to keep us younguns happy.
Many thanks to all previous reviewers that always help us in our planning.