We booked the cruise well in advance. Mum requires a walking frame to get around and a wheel chair for steep inclines and long distances. Because mum couldn't climb into a bath to shower, we opted for a disabled room. That was a good move on our part.
Embarkation: We caught a cab from our hotel to the dock. The staff were wonderful and directed us to where we needed to go. We had booked a wheel chair assist to embark, knowing that a steep incline up a gang plank would be too much for mum. The gentleman handling that area was very helpful and directed us to a desk where we wouldn't have to cue to check in. So far so good. They noted that mum is a diabetic and asked if we need a sharps container in our cabin. We said yes. That did now arrive, not until 3 days into the cruise when we received a questionnaire asking if there was anything more they could do for us. We asked for the sharps container. It arrived. Apparently we had only to ask our cabin steward and he would have given us one.
The day following our departure we received a letter noting that we had a passenger with mobility problems in our cabin and to please contact the front desk. So I did. They informed me that the ships wheelchairs would not be available for use during the cruise. This was a new policy and not in place when we booked. We had specifically made a point of asking if wheel chairs would be available to disembarking and embarking at ports of call when we booked and were told yes they would. When we completed the paper work requesting wheelchair assistance for embarkation etc we were not notified of the changes. I was told that they would assist my mother to disembark and embark but were evasive as to whether or not they would make a wheelchair available.
The tour desk also contacted us to question the suitability of one of the tours we had booked. When we booked the tour through the ship I took careful note regarding suitability of the tours for those with limited mobility. There was nothing that indicated that the tour we had booked for the Bay of Islands would not be suitable for her. I held off cancelling the tour until after we had visited our 1st tender port so I could personally check out the tender transfer process. At our second tender transfer port, my mother managed just fine so we decided not to cancel our Bay of Island tour. As fate would have it, our visit to The Bay of Islands was cancelled due to bad weather!
When we arrived in Dunedin the gangway was extremely steep. There was no way my mother could attempt to walk down it safely with her walking frame. The crew suggested that she sit on her frame and they would take her down on her frame! We said no, that she required a wheelchair as it was not safe to push her down on her frame. They got a wheel chair. The staff have no idea how to handle a wheel chair on a gangplank either up or down. It was a white knuckle experience for her at every port of call. How the crew haven't sustained back injuries I don't know. There was only once when one of the officers was present and corrected the way that they were going to embark did my mother ... or I for that matter feel safe. At every port the gangway was very steep.
The cabin was spacious and the bathroom well set up. The only thing I noted was that for a disabled bathroom the toilet was a standard one, not the taller variety disabled bathrooms usually have. I wrote to the cruise line after our return to raise a couple of concerns, this being one of them and in the response I received was told that there was a raised toilet seat available for use, had we requested it. We didn't know that there was one available. Having said this, there were ample railings around the bathroom and there was a shower stool. The shower was easy to use, it was well set out.
In Tauranga (Rotorua) we booked a private tour through Xquizit Limousine and Tours. That proved to be a good move. They were there waiting for us when we docked. Our driver was wonderful and very attentive and very informative. He pre booked a wheel chair for when we got to the thermal areas and then proceeded to push mum around and to give us a personalised narrated tour of the area. The staff knew he well, so when we went to view where the men were learning to do the Moari carvings, they pulled the barriers back so mum could get up close and personal and they talked to mum and I one on one. The same in the women's weaving area. They also gave mum a gift because it was her birthday! We were taken to a lovely cafe for lunch. While eating lunch the staff came over with a small cup cake with a candle on it and sang happy birthday! Our driver had told them it was mums birthday. We had a fantastic day. The cost of the tour was half of what the ships tour cost and it was well worth every cent and was an incredibly memorable day for mum.
We too one of the shops tours in Napier. That was good and informative. Would I do it again? Probably not, But mum wanted to do the tour.
We enjoyed each of our ports of call, mum just wanted to wander around the local areas for awhile to soak up the ambiance of the areas.
The ship was lovely. Lots of areas to sit and relax, lots of activities to participate in. the Internet was incredibly expensive, but do you really need to spend hours on the net when you are on holidays? The evening shows were great, the guest entertainers were excellent. We went to the early shows, and then made our way to the piano bar and enjoyed a very entertaining evening listening to the pianist there (Glen). His interaction with the passengers, his showmanship and the variety of music he played made every night a night to enjoy. The piano bar was packed every night. Each night there was a theme. Well worth going to.
The food on board was great. The Lido deck was great, the selection was amazing and the quality good. The only negative would be, there was nowhere for mum to park her walking frame. The crew didn't think to remove a chair from a table to make room for her frame, so finding a suitable spot for us to eat was difficult. We had early fixed dinner seating on a table of 6. The meals were great. The portion sizes for mum were often too big, and even when we requested a small serve, the serve came out the same size as everyone else's, and so that often put mum off eating, huge serves are overwhelming for her. That would have to be the only negative. We didn't take advantage of breakfast in the main dining room until the end of the cruise. I wish we had done so earlier, it was much easier for mum eating there than on the Lido deck.
This was the biggest negative for us. We booked to go to the airport via a ship transfer, to ensure we got off in plenty of time to catch our flight. Because mum was a wheel chair assist to get off the ship, we had to meet in the Oceana bar. Our disembarkation time was 7.45am, so we arrived there at 7.35am to find the place in darkness with no wheelchairs in sight. We waited and waited and eventually at 7.50 I went and found a crew member to ask what was happening. A crew member eventually arrived at 7.55 with no wheel chairs. He didn't think disembarkation had commenced ... I don't know where he had been as it had been announced that it had commenced at 7.30 on two occasions. He then set about finding wheelchairs and then a tiny slip of a girl arrived to take mum off the ship. She took us to the wrong deck to disembark, even though we tried to correct her. She eventually found a crew member who could tell her which deck to disembark on. When we got to the gangway, once again it was super steep. She nearly tipped mum out of the wheel chair getting her up the lip of the gangway. A shore person came up to rescue mum and take over with the chair. The ship were using the Pinnacle Grill staff to handle the disembarkation of those needing assistance. We finally got to the bus, 30 minutes late. There was one other person who required wheelchair assistance who arrived another 5 minutes later.
For those who did not require assistance or who left the ship later disembarkation would have been far less stressful. For us it was very frustrating dealing with the very casual attitude of those assisting with this process. It felt like the staff from the Pinnacle Grill were very reluctant to take on board this role.
Mum had a great cruise. Family members took advantage of pre booking gifts for mum (flowers, manicure, etc) for mum which she received at different times throughout the cruise. She was surprised and thrilled. The dining room sang to her on her birthday, and gave her a small birthday cake. The crew were friendly, on the whole and attentive.
Would I cruise again with HAL? Yes, it was a relaxing experience, the ship was not too big and the ratio of staff to passengers was good. If travelling with someone with disabilities, endeavour to get a full update of facilities available on board, don't just assume that all will be ok!