We planned our holiday New Zealand Cruise, our first on Holland America Line, about 6 months ago, and used other Cruise Critics reviews and message board to plan many aspects of our trip.
We booked our trip through USAA travel agency available to military or former miltary members. We are experienced internet travel searchers, and still was a better deal than we could have gotten anywhere else. We found the best flight deal through www.kayak.com and then booked directly through the airline (Asiana Air) for our flights than connected through Seoul. Asiana is very much like flying used to be. Flight attendents are uniformly young, with the same uniform and hairstyles, and a heavy emphasis on service (hot towels, hot tea, diet coke in the middle of a 14 hour flight if you ask, lots of movies on your personal screen). We had to get over the sticker shock of flights costing half again as muich as the cruise for the four of us, but it is summer, Christmas, and a heck of a long flight from Chicago to Sydney and back, so we bit the bullet. That also bespeaks that the cruise was a really good deal for a 16 day over Christmas.
Boarding was quick and efficient, and we were able to get to our cabin right away as oppsed to having to carry stuff around for several hours. It was clear immediately that the cruise was mostly older Australians, which we were fine with. We had a 1st level ocean view cabin in the aft of the ship (#1945) which was great and had a large window. Plus not any of the engine noise bugged us.
We went straight up and add at the Lido buffet, which was varied and generally very good, with sushi, fresh ice cream, and a good ceasar salad bar and pasta made fresh daily. Then we were off the ship to get UGGs and go to he Opera House. We missed the tours that afternoon but made plan to attend one in the morning.
We had fixed early seating in the main dining room, which we went to all but 3-4 nights as we like having the same table and wait staff that knew our names and preferences. Our waitstaff struggled with their English, but tried very hard. Our bar waiter was excellent and even made the kids a chair out of champagne tops and an origami bird. Food in the main dining room was standard fare, trying to be a litle too fancy. my 11 year old daughter had ceasar salad and chicken breast with veggies almost every day, so nice to have the "always available" options. In general, red meat was very small portions, but willing to get more if you would like. I always ordered a meal size salad for the salad course, and then something else for dinner, because if you can't overeat on a cruise ship, where can you?
The next day (the ship stayed berthed in Sydney overnight) we went ot the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge, plus walked around the Rocks. Awesome city.
General notes about pluses and minuses of HAL as compared to other lines (at least Disney, Norwegian, and Carnival, which we have sailed on before):
1) Great library, almost the size of a small town library, along with a chess/scrabble/majong area. I checked out several books and read them on the trip. there are also Eron chairs that you can sit in and watch the sunset.
2) Another unexpected feature...each room has a DVD player, and a listing of about 1,000 DVDs that can be checked out from the front desk. Everything from Finding nemo to the first 2 seasons of Rome are available.
3) Camesoli's, the italian restaurant on Lido deck from dinner, requires a reservation but is free of charge, unlike Pinnacle. Very good italian food and antipasto.
4) The teens have their own small deck, The Oasis, with tables, a wading pool, and some of the best views on the ship. Awesome.
5) There is a smalldeck off of the gym which has some navigational equipment on it but is still available to stand on.
6) The Susan G. Kolman walk for the cure on the last sea day that HAL offers is a nice touch, and you get a t-shirt, a sense of comraderie, and pink lemonade for $15 donation
7) Get a tailor-made omelette or sandwich from Rene on Lido deck...hard to beat.
8) The bathrooms have a bathtub in them which is deep enough to be serviceable. Very useful if you are not feeling well or have a kid who got seasick.
9) There is a small movie theatre and free popcorn. The same space is used by raising the screen to expose a show kitchen, which has several classes/day on cooking specific items.
10) There are free computer classes on everything from Windows 7 to Movie Making, and how to take best advantage of your digital camera offered by Aiden. I am pretty savvy with the computer, but Aiden was excellent, and even if a class with peopel of vastly different experiences with computers, I learned new things every time, and was impressed that he wasn't trying to sell anything, but rather lead people to free public resources.
11) Scenic cruising through the fjords was well-commentated on the main decks by Jeremy. This was a good blend of animal-sightings, knowing what you are looking at, and history of Capt. Cook and the oginial Moari people
12) Ships (or municiplalities) arranged for free shuttles from the several working ports we docked at into the town
13) Room service, which I always order on ships because it is free and such a treat, was very good, quick, and varied enough to be a good "fourth meal."
14) The pool was small and no slide, but freshwater, with a cool dolphin thing in it, which is wonderful as we are used to some of the ships having saltwater pools which are hard to get used to and yucky for little kids who invariably get a big mouthful
15) Fresh flowers throughout the ship, including on all of the tables in main dining room. Not something I would expect to make a difference, but it was a very elegant tough and nice to see
1) Food at Rotterdam dining room was of good quality, but too fancy with "recommendations from the master chef." A small thing, but only offered a really good steak once, and when they offered lobster it was a small 1/2 tail. The waitstaff struggled with English, and we found it easier to point to the item we wanted, and difficult to make any smalltalk
2) Beer list was not great, but they did have a few Australian beers.
3) For a quad, the room set-up is odd with a queen bed at the end and the twin pull down over part of the queen, then the sofa converted to a twin.
4) Again, a small thing, but they had a small thing of lotion provided at the beginning, but didn't replace it once used, so we had to buy lotion at a port.
5) We went to two of the shows... not great, especially compared to other lines. The movies took up that time for us.
6) Our preference at play here, but there were 5 formal days over 16 days, and most of them were heavily formal (tuxedos for men). I was glad my husband brought a tie, but we were still underdressed, and like a more casual atmosphere, which HAL is not
7) We were in port on Christmas and New Year's Day, and at sea the following days. Perhaps at least for one day we could have switched that so people didn't have to work to open tourist areas on Christmas Day.
8) The Captain's messages at first were shockingly negative, although eventually we found them amusing. As we were sailing across the Tasmin Sea, he did a whole thing about how "the Tasmin claims its victims" and a kayaker who died trying to cross recently. After another (albeit smaller) earthquake in Christchurch he spoke about how it wouldn't effect us, "only feels like you are running aground." it would have been more amusing it we were a naval vessel instead of a pleasure trip. That sai, amazing maneuvering in Milford Sound, turning the ship around fully to give everyone a good view.
So, overall, an unforgetable trip, and totally worth skipping Christmas for. A 9 on 1-10.