Arrival/Hotel/Excursions Before Departure: We traveled by self-arranged air to Buenos Aires about a week early, and went on a side excursion to Iguazu Falls (Argentina/Brazil)prior to the cruise. Iguazu Falls is amazing and a "must do" if you have the time and ability to add that to your itinerary. In Buenos Aires we stayed at the Lola House Hotel, a small boutique style hotel in the Boedo area of Buenos Aires (outside the normal tourist area). It turned out to be a great choice for us, as the staff (especially Clara) of Lola House truly made our stay in Buenos Aires. Another highlight of Buenos Aires was a 7-hour walking tour.
Embarkation/Public Rooms/Stateroom: We took a taxi to the cruise port from our hotel and were met curbside by an enthusiastic Holland America rep. She noted our Holland America luggage tags, got the luggage loaded on a cart, and hustled us to the check-in station in less than five minutes. There was no line (about 1:00 p.m.), so five minutes later we were walking aboard ship. We stowed bags and did a tour of the ship to get oriented, finishing in Lido, where lunch was in full swing. Our impression of the ship was that it was well maintained...but showing its age. Still, everything was clean, serviceable, and cozy. There was a small hiccup after the three days in Anarctica (when waste could not be dumped from the ship). Nearly every public restroom became "out of order". The Lido was in the "no self-service mode" for the first two days...which caused lines and frustration. That was mostly mitigated when that policy was rescinded about Day 3. Our stateroom was spacious with plenty of storage. The closets easily held all our clothing. The bath had recently been remodeled and was very pleasant and it was nice sized, with a bath tub. Our stewards came by to introduce themselves and give us a card. They were very competent and very low key...we rarely saw them.
Dining: We enjoyed the food service in most of the venues on board. The food in the Lido was only serviceable. The hamburger bar was very good, and the pizza place was convenient. We really enjoyed the food and service in the main dining room (we were "as you wish dining") and though few meals were "memorable", the food was continually excellent. We went to the Pinnacle Grill twice, once for a Le Cirque evening and the second time for a Cellarmaster's Dinner--both specialty events, even for the Pinnacle. The food and service seemed to be at a lower standard than we have experienced previously in Pinnacle Grills or equivalent. The Cellarmaster's Dinner was particularly disappointing. As wine lovers, we expected the cellarmaster to do a better job picking/pairing wines. The wines selected were terrible with the pairings made. With one or two notable exceptions, all the dining room and bar service crew was friendly and helpful. We especially enjoyed the wine steward Noel in the main dining room.
Entertainment: We attended many of the entertainment events in the showroom and found them to be just that--entertaining. There was a "lecture team" on board to provide lectures on wildlife, culture, geology, geography and detailed information on South America and Antarctica. The information they provided was good...but their presentations were routinely dry and boring. They had excellent knowledge without the comparable presentation skills. We also took part in many ship activities...which were abundant and varied. We particularly like the library on board, and made significant use of it.
Tendering Ashore/On Board Information: There was one major glitch by Holland America in their procedures for distributing "tender tickets" to those not on Holland America excursions. They published a "distribution start time" and many people lined up early (in an organized queue)...only to see the typical rude late-comers show up at exactly the distribution time and barge to the head of the line. Holland America had insufficient personnel on hand to keep order...nor did they politely as the line busters to go to the end of the line...but instead issued them tickets. This caused lots of hard feelings. Also, there was a dearth of informational announcements from the captain and crew...especially concerning navigational details (specifically when we would arrive at scenic locales), weather, and sea conditions. This is the least amount of information we have received on any cruise, which detracted from the otherwise excellent experience.
Disembarkation: A further example of this poor communication was disembarkation, which was congested and delayed. The ship docked at the cargo port and passengers were bussed to the cruise port terminal. This caused long lines and massive pile ups in all the hallways and stairs. If Holland America had provided specific information in advance on the necessity to bus everyone and the procedures...AND had enough folks in the hallways to keep them clear...the process could have been significantly expedited.
Summary: This was a GREAT cruise because of the destinations (The Falkland Islands and Antarctica) and the weather we had while visiting them. Like every cruise, this one had its hiccups and missteps...but overall the ship-board experience was very good to excellent...and when you include the absolute awesomeness of The Falkland Islands and Antarctica...I had to rate the overall cruise experience excellent.
NOTE: First time cruisers should think seriously before signing up for this cruise, as the large number of sea days (due to the long distances to traverse) and the potential for bad weather and rough seas (we had our share in the Drake Passage with 65 knot winds and 35 foot seas)make this a little different than your "typical" cruise.