First of all, I should mention that I was raised and have had a lifetime of employment in the hospitality industry. A 5-star facility in fact, so my 'critical eye' is probably a bit more precise and picky than the average guest. With that being said, this was our first cruise, EVER! We were so excited and after a couple of years or planning our Alaska trip, we decided to go with HAL over NCL & Princess. Mainly for the 'Quality of Excellence' they were promoting and looking at the dvd's & brochures. I studied the reviews regularly, and yes, there were a few terrible reviews, but there were equally as many excellent ones. So basically I threw them out, but made mental notes of each. One good would cancel out the bad, etc. Trying to compare apples to apples with all cruise lines, generally, the HAL reviews seemed consistently above average overall, with the exception of a frequent observation of the worn areas (corners, furniture, robes, tiles, carpet, dated colors, chipped plates & glasses, etc.) of the ship. I thought we could get by that, and we did, knowing the Oosterdam was scheduled for dry dock shortly after our cruise. It definitely needs an overhaul.
The part that disappointed and offended me immediately was the attitude from the crew we experienced right from the start. From then on, it was an immediate daily downhill experience. For starters, embarkation was a nightmare. Long waits and the long lines were just the beginning of daily longs lines over the next week. Reading many CC reviews, we tried to get into the dining room instead of the Lido once on board because of the long buffet lines. We were refused and said it was only for returning passengers. Not a good start. After waiting in a long line, we couldn't find any seats available. Another negative. Finally there was an announcement made that all rooms were ready. Excited for a rest and hopefully a nice room, we fought the crowds to our room. Yet ANOTHER huge disappointment! It was filthy! Hair on bathroom floor, around sink, toilet & in tub! Gross! Carpet was stained and dirty, but worst of all, on main desk area, where there was a welcome packet, there were glass rings and sticky jelly and food stains. There was a think pattern of dirt/dust around the mirror and edge of the brochures, so after picking up my purse, yes, stains of old food now on it....I went to the bathroom to get a washcloth to wash off the desk. It was gross. While doing so, the dirt was so bad that I decided to wipe around the literature after removing it to do so. Well, I found a bunch of pocket change in the corner under the pamphlets left from previous guests! So at that point I stopped cleaning, took pics and immediately called the front desk, who finally sent the room steward up. I pointed out the filth, dirt, coins and said how disappointed we were in the cleanliness. He apologized and said it was his 'assistant' who had cleaned the room and that they didn't have enough time to turn over the cabin from the earlier departing guests of that day. And then added that the folks in our cabin before us had two small children and a baby and they were very messy, with cookies, crackers and crumbs everywhere, including the bed! I was starting to freak! He agreed to reclean it so we left. When we came back, the obvious dirt I had pointed out had been removed, however, the room stunk like a cheap hotel. The pillows also smelled terribly. Not the quality they had advertised.
From that point on my optimistic attitude changed. We were literally looking for something positive on this ship. The first two days the weather was rough, many of the passengers were sick. The lines were very long EVERYWHERE! Passengers were all grumbling. By the 3rd day, there was a letter and an announcement that a flu virus was going around, and to stay in cabins if sick. Luckily, we didn't get sick, however, many folks were. Hand sanitizing was full on! However, since the buffets were being served, (not self serve) it made for more long lines! Not ONCE a dining pleasure at the Lido. The taco bar was never open once during the trip. The Terrace grill was only open the 2nd half of the trip, and of course, long, long lines. We did make it to the Pinnacle one night. Not worth the $25 upgrade (increased from $20 after we booked the trip). The food was good, but not any better than the dining room. Unfortunately, we couldn't get back in again as it was booked all week. We did eat in the dining room a few times that we could get a reservation. We had anytime seating but found out that was a bad choice as there was never any room without a reservation. We we had to eat in the Lido or get room service. We had some type of room service daily. Not once was it right, either on time or food selection. It became a joke towards the end of the week, wondering what we'd get an when. Food in the dining room I would have to say was exceptional. Excellent presentation, portions, flavor! WOW! A 5+ rating, however, the service, very lacking. Again, the attitude that we were inconveniencing THEM. Cold, resentful types, especially if you didn't order alcohol. Which, by the way we did regularly, but as soon as you said no, they lost their fake smiles.
We made it to a couple of shows, lame, but the biggest complaint was the seating. No room. We either had to stand or go up to the balcony in the back for a seat. Noticed that no one was ever in the lounge with the band. Did some trivia and game show deals, but seating once again a problem. Made it to the casino a few times. We play alot in Vegas & Reno, and noticed the same slots we played in casinos were poor paybacks, so we stuck to the tables. Held our $$ together, but the dealers were mentally 'elsewhere'. We tried talking to them, but some of them had a convenient english problem. They seemed to speak amongst themselves frequently. Again, the guy getting drinks was friendly, until you turned him down.
Started out going to the the first day at sea. I was there at 6:00 a.m., YES, that early, and only one treadmill available. There was a 30 minute limit, I wanted to run/work out for an hour. Not allowed. Maybe it was packed because it was raining so no one was outside?? Or maybe it was packed because EVERYTHING on this ship was crowded and jammed! Tried to get in a few more times, no luck, after that quit going. I had a whole week of work outs planned that never happened. Therefore, the first class gym and equipment get a ZERO rating since I could never get on it!!
Finally, disembarkation was just as disappointing as embarkation, if not more! We were told to wait in our rooms until our 'color group' was called. The announcement from the cruise director, Dave, was to not arrive ONE MINUTE prior to our scheduled time. That would've been fine, except the room stewards came an and basically kicked us out! They started ripping up the bed and pulling towels, and we weren't even out of there! They didn't speak, weren't friendly, NOTHING! It was a joke. I asked if we could have a couple of minutes and then we'd vacate, but no response. We decided to go and wait in the lounge but of course there were no seats! Finally, when we got off the ship, we had to wait yet again for our luggage and a bus. And here was the FINAL straw.....after waiting on the bus for our driver to depart. He walked on the bus, and with broken english, out of breath and holding a handkerchief to his head, made an announcement that "There is NO ONE in this town that worked harder than him, the over worked bus driver, loading and unloading all of our HEAVY luggage, all by himself, and that if we appreciated him we would TIP him!!!" I am NOT KIDDING! Everyone on the buss was shocked and we all looked around at each other. Did that guy actually just say that? My husband actually commented stating that he must have a pair of 'brass ones' to blatantly state that. With the bus drivers theatrical performance, I decided that the tip he WAS getting was now a suggestion....GET ANOTHER JOB!
Finally, with all that being said, I am not sure if we'll ever do another cruise again. We were told by other passengers that Princess had more people, therefore, more lines. However, we were also told by others that Princess was better organized, cleaner and the crew were much more pleasant. Throughout this trip, both an NCL ship and a Princess ship stopped in the same ports as we did. HAL promotes their quality, service and attention to detail as above all others. I did not find this at all. If anything, it is over rated, over priced and the crew is over worked. At best, it was a mediocre hotel room with a view. I do not recommend HAL unless your expectations are not too high. If you are looking for cleanliness, attention to detail and quality service, look elsewhere!