15 June 2011
Flew from Stuttgart, Germany to Barcelona using Air Berlin, discount flights no meals, no frills & pretty cheap. Upon arrival could not locate HAL rep so after waiting fifteen minutes luckily my husband loads all the phone numbers in his phone so he called and was told they would come. After another ten minutes of waiting she appeared something about another client. Then she walked us out the doors where we waiting another five minutes for her specific cab driver who took us to the port. We could have saved all the waiting in this crowded area and taken a cab right outside the door, we will not use this overpriced transfer service in Barcelona again.
Arriving at the terminal showing the boarding pass we printed from our home computer they took our luggage and we proceeded through security inside where they do basically what they do in airports minus the shoe removal. If you have bottles in your luggage they will open your luggage and check to insure it is wine. To prevent them opening your luggage you could have it in a smaller bag in your big suitcase and remove it before giving the ship your luggage and hand carry it through security. Wine is allowed and soft drinks just no hard liquors not sure about beer.
Finishing security there is an escalator with a person to direct you up to the checking in area. I asked this person where the people for the suites were suppose to go and she just pointed up the escalator. At the top to the left is the table with forms to fill out asking if you have been ill, each person must fill one out to proceed so make sure you have a couple of pens with you to speed this up if your coming with companions. Also grab a Days Events paper from here. Then once you have this form filled out proceed to the roped lines to the long counter for check in. They will need your printed boarding pass and passports, and then they take your photo for the ships computers, this way if whenever you go off or back on the ship your photo will appear on the screen for the person to see you're really this person named on the card. We use a lanyard (of course HAL one purchased in the ships store) to make it handy to carry this card since it is basically a credit card and ID, you don't want to lose it! When you are leaving the ship and hands are full you have it hanging around your neck quick and easy, then removed while on shore of course. There is a neat slot on the door of your room to put them so as your leaving your room you just put it on and replace it when you come back in. So far we have only found the front desk will punch a hole in the bottom middle for the lanyard to go through.
When you finish checking and getting your map of the ship etc you're ready to board if you are not too early. You cannot board until after 11:00 am and must stay in the big area across from the check in counter with limited seats and pay for refreshments. If you are in a suite you are allowed into the area upstairs. At the top of the escalator you came up it is on the opposite side of the table with the health forms you filled out. Take the elevator up and they will greet you with coffee, tea, and cookies. There are soft leather couches and chairs up there with TV but in Spanish of course. I think HAL could save money by doing away with this area and setting it up, just let the suite people be escorted up to the Neptune Lounge until their rooms are ready like NCL does for their villas.
Now 11:00 am arrives and we are not escorted to the gangway but have to go ourselves sliding past the other passengers who have now crowded up to the roped area. On NCL they have a butler escort you to your room and show you the amenities, HAL your on your own and have to show the card you received at check in that you are in a suite. People in suites are given priority boarding. You also get champagne in your suite and can have canapEs delivered each day but most are seafood which I do not eat so we declined.
Our suite is basically what you see on the web and this ship does not have the curtain providing privacy to anyone in the bed, we had hoped one was there since our granddaughter was with us; some of the other ships do have the curtain. Having a third person using the sofa bed makes for crowded conditions, when the bed is out you barely can make it out to the balcony since they stow the coffee table in front of the balcony door. We had so much storage space for all the clothes it was fabulous (this is where NCL fails in their villas they have very little storage and even less hangers). Our room was very well kept by Poni & Ilo our room stewards, they would make the sofa bed up when we went to dinner and have it picked up by mid morning. They did an outstanding job! Our only complaint was the big window never was cleaned and the glass on the balcony was covered in salt spray so sitting down in one of the two chairs made it hard to see through. The balcony also had a table and three chairs but it was too hot to eat out there in the afternoon. Next door was one of the penthouses with so many people the noise sometimes was a bit much including playing music. They had a hot tub but I never saw anyone use it, they had a very long balcony. I don't think we will get a room next to the penthouse again.
In the suites you have amenities like laundry; this ship was the first that actually lost something, my husbands' favorite sleeping shirt. When asked about it they blew us off the concierge in the Neptune Lounge didn't appear to care asking how much it cost, it wasn't the reimbursement we wanted it was the shirt, like I said his favorite. If you have something you cannot part with don't put it in the laundry, lesson learned.
Neptune Lounge was nice and well stocked; you could eat breakfast and lunch in there if you wanted. Most times had hot coffee and hot chocolate but had to dig for the latter for some reason. The coffee machine was not working at one point and I thought hubby would have a melt down, gotta have decent coffee, it was fixed by the next day. You also are given free breakfast in the Pinnacle Grill which was fantastic!
Restaurants: The Manhattan Dining Room is free to everyone and we used it more this time then ever before. We eat early and it is less crowded. Our first server was horrid and it took two hours of sitting waiting for the meal to end. Geeze! For the first time we asked for a different server and got Andre, man is a Godsend! Nicely we let him know we liked to keep it moving and don't dally and he was fine with that. I can see if it is crowded but our area was not crowded since we were so early. The food was great with a wide selection, I only had one meal I did not like the food but no big deal. Our ten year old granddaughter was given a children's menu and she loved all the dishes, mac & cheese, chicken nuggets, spaghetti, and ice cream and several more choices offered every night. Our favorite place on board is the Pinnacle Grill with "Sam the Man" a great server and show man who we enjoyed on previous cruises on different ships, Tony the "Wine guy" he is so much fun to chat with, and Anna the "The Wine Gal" they all made our meal times enjoyable. The food was outstanding! I just wish they had more variety. We also ate in the Lido a couple of mornings and it was delish! They have stations for Belgian Waffles to die for, and an egg station any way you want them. Sadly on this station the young man doing the toast was lacking. Lunch in the Lido was nice but the salad items were allowed to run out several times. The tables were kept cleaned off and the staff attentive. We also used the grill by the pool and they have some amazing choices of knockwurst for those out there who like that option, along with hotdogs, hamburgers and lots of fries.
Out in the pool area we had a drink from the bar, a bit pricey but aren't all poolside bars? The Mohita was oooooh so good. Pool was dirty with balls of hair floating on the bottom and a used Band-Aid, gross! I had to get a young man to come scoop it out. I was amazed to see there is rust already forming on the pool sides in the metal area.
Room service: It was nice that this was the first time on all the ships that the person could understand English, this is crucial in a phone order. We got all the items we requested for breakfast when it was too early to go to the Pinnacle Grill, but one morning something happened and they did not get our breakfast up to us nor our neighbor so we had to make due with some items from the Lido to carry and eat on the bus. We returned from our excursion to an apology and chocolate covered strawberries.
Shows: We saw one with Grease not so great, it looked scary how they had these girls on shaky stands trying to dance, they looked frighten. The magician was fantastic granddaughter loved it.
Walk for the Cure was fun and had such a great turn out, you get a pink wrist band and teeshirt for $25 donation, then enjoy the walk it isn't 5 km which is fine mostly symbolic to show your support.
While onboard internet is extremely expensive, solution: in your first port if you find a phone store which you can look up at home
and buy this Vodaphone Mobile Connect Card that you stick into your laptop and have access to the internet while in ports, (nothing works at sea but the ships internet). You may have to sit in the Lido deck by the pool where you get the best reception, while in our room it did not work facing out to sea, if your room is on land side it should work on your balcony. They have outlets to plug into by the pool near the windows to keep your battery going on the laptop. If you don't use the card up by the end of the cruise you may give it to one of the crew they can use them to contact people at home.
HAL Club for kids: The children have clubs divided by age. In the one my granddaughter age ten was in the attendants were great and she loved being with the group. They did arts and crafts, treasure hunt, sports, movie night with popcorn, and gaming on Xbox. One night they had a dance down on another floor and Syd loved it! It does not open until 7:00 pm so the children don't mind eating with you but gets them moving to be ready to go to dinner and then on to their evening out. It closes at 10:00 p.m. and she stayed till they closed each night. You can give permission for them to sign in and out but not sure if that is only while out to sea but in port a parent must pick them up, I would check on that. We personally went to pick her up each time there are so many people on these ships it is like a small city. We really liked this ability for her to go off and play with other children it gets boring being with old people all the time and we had time alone to watch a show or just walk around.
Photographers: We paid for one of the $200 packages and received all the shots. Sadly in many on one night a couple stood in the background so appear in all of them. Also the photographer didn't care that my husband's suit was all bunched up and some my eyes were closed. They also take one when you leave the ship in each port, no background, sun in our eyes most times, and a couple of stops no one was even out there. Just buy as you go is the best bet.
Ports: Barcelona, fantastic a must see is Casa Batllo by Gaudi, the man was before his time in thinking. Also the Familia church but if you go go early the line was unreal by mid day we didn't go inside. We used Barcelona Bus Turistic (blue buses) for transportation once out of the port. You catch them in Christopher Columbus square. We have used both companies and like Hop & Ride (Red buses) better they had less broken jacks for listening and better seating, both were crowded. On the blue buses the bottom back is so low ceiling many folks kept hitting their heads. If the jacks are broken in your seat use your neighbors each seat has four.
Monta Carlo, Monaco-We didn't enjoy this port that much. We hiked up the fort like structure near the ship and went through the little park but just did not see anything worth staying in the humid heat. We returned to an almost empty ship and went swimming, very nice.
Livorno, Italy- We took the excursion to Pisa and Florence since our granddaughter wanted to see both. Florence they took us to the Santa Croce church then to down town where the guide just went on and on it would have been better to have been allowed to go through the marketplace. The lunch was alright nothing to get excited about in a hot restaurant. Barbara was our guide she was nice and allowed the kids to take turns holding the group sign. Pisa you cannot go up time is very limited and you have to reserve a time in advance. Plenty of shopping for souvenirs at booths along the route to the leaning tower from where the bus drops you off. Florence they have some cool vendors who can bend your name out of metal in three minutes for 2 Euro I think it was.
Rome-Long bus ride of course but we had the best guide Alexandra, my granddaughter just loved her. We were allowed to go on our own from the Trevi fountain and walk to the Spanish steps which look nothing like the postcards with all the pretty flower boxes are gone. We went to lunch in the most beautiful of restaurants we loved sitting outside because of no seating left inside. Went to the Vatican in the afternoon when the line was shorter Alexandra was spot on picking when to go. We purchased a couple of 3 Euro parasols while near the Coliseum which proved very useful in Greece.
Naples, Italy- they replaced the original port that was in Sicily, so we went to Sorrento to shop. It was a long bus ride and you're asked to stay for a sales pitch when you get off the bus but you don't have too and I suggest you skip it and go to the tiny stores their much cheaper, time is limited. We found a jewelry box maker with his Dad and purchased all of our boxes there and they even let us take a picture with them. The bus also stopped at a Cameo maker shop and we got the most pretty Cameo of a mother and a child, they have newer styled Cameo's not only the old fashion type and they have a demonstration on how their made, be sure to bargain with them, be strong but be polite.
Katakolon, Greece- Took the Olympic tour and loved it even though it got quite hot the parasols really helped. Back in time for the pool and relaxing.
Navplion, Greece-Another hot day starting early, granddaughter dragging butt after a night of dancing in HAL club, she had a great time. Spent the morning walking ruins and listening to the tour guide, then Greek lunch of lamb, fab!
Corfu, Greece-Another hot day, granddaughter had a sunburn so we paid for the bus to go into town it's too far to walk, many tiny shops with olive wood items and assortment of all kinds of things. We found the drug store and got skin cream (to find they had Aloe in the ships store) and went back to the ship to watch a movie. I would like to go here again.
Dubrovnik, Croatia- We went when the ship pulled in. There are two gangways and for some reason everyone goes to the front one we went mid ship and missed that pile up. What a cool city no tour guide needed use free online walking guide, you have to walk the wall! Once you cross the little walkway and go inside to the right is where you purchase the tickets for 70 kn then come out the door and go to the left and there are the stairs. They don't open till 8:00 am. There was only one other woman up there with us so no shots of the walls with all the people in them, later on we saw so many people they looked like ants climbing. We walked the wall all the way to the middle where you can come back down and now you're on the backside of the city right near the tourist attractions. We walked back towards the entrance down the main street but off to the sides you can climb the steep steps to shops nestled up among the homes. For children there is a man just outside the entrance where they swing a huge hammer and make their own coin, what a cool keepsake, the vendor will pose for you too.
Venice, Italy-Last port, we took the people mover for 1 Euro to the city where your supposed to get the water Taxi. We could not find any signs to help here. We just hoofed it through the city since we have been here before and I really wanted my granddaughter to experience it all. Needless to say the heat may have made this a bad choice. We found a gondola for hire cost 200 Euro for the three of us. They have three routes to choose from; short I think was €100, longer €200, and even longer and into another area for I believe it was €300. Yes VERY expensive but hey when will you ever come back here and get to do this again? Do you want to be in the photos in the gondola or taking ones of other people??? We knew it would be expensive so we were prepared.
Did the pizza and ice cream thing along with the pigeons although it appears the pigeons are less in number now then the last time we visited. Lots of construction going on and has been for some time, with big sheets of ads covering stuff, ruins the photos. Didn't shop just caught the crowded water Taxi back to the ship and then the people mover.
Disembarkation: The airport is small so they do NOT allow you in the airport before three hours when your flight is scheduled to leave. The ship wants you off early they start disembarkation early and even if your flight leaves later they hustle you off way before you need to be to get the next group on. We paid for the transfer again not necessary, and boarded the bus then waited...went a ways and to keep us from sitting outside the airport we sat on the bus. Then they let us off and we sat outside the airport on benches. When we finally went inside no chairs and crowded. Air Berlin would not let us check in and had some snafu on another flight making things even worse. Could not even get word on what counter to line up at, this is important with flights that do not reserve your seats before you check in with three people. Needless to say hubby vowed never to fly in or out of Venice ever again.
All in all we had a great time! This was our granddaughters' maiden voyage and she is needless to say hooked on cruising. Yes we have her booked on a Baltic cruise next summer with Princess!