We sailed with 3 adult friends (a couple and a single) and all had outside cabins with windows on the lowest deck. Found the cabins to be extremely comfortable. Lots of storage space, nice bathrooms with tubs, and all very quiet. Hooks for hanging robes, plenty of drawers, and a safe in the closet. Friends were next door, and we never heard them. Advantage to being on the bottom is less ship movement and less people traffic. Ship isn't new, but only real sign of age was slightly stained grout in parts of the bathroom. Also, window frame showed some corrosion, but I can't imagine that it is even possible to keep up with that. Our cabin attendants were very efficient, and the only slight issue was when I turned in one of the Holland America robes (really comfy) to be washed, and it wasn't returned for about a week. Concern about cleanliness was emphasized, and there were sanitizer machines everywhere.Loved the nightly towel animals. We had a small sofa and coffee table, desk with make-up mirror, built-in hairdryer in the bathroom and plug-in hairdryer to be used anywhere else. Laundry facilities were readily available, easy to use, and reasonably priced. The public areas of the ship were lovely. This is the perfect size ship (about 1400 passengers) to easily learn the layout and get around. 3 sets of elevators (fore, aft, and middle). Found out the importance of this when we were on a larger ship with only two sets. Elevators always available and not crowded. Itinerary included 7 ports in New Caledonia, Vanuatu, and Fiji. 3 were strictly beach stops. 4 offered shore excursions. It was a very relaxed trip. We spent 2 days at sea getting to our first port, then 1 day each in 2 different ports, then 1 day at sea, 1 day each at 2 different ports, 1 day at sea, day in port, then 2 days back. We are not frequent cruisers, and I find it very frustrating to have 6 hours in a major port with lots to see and do. This itinerary, going to these islands, was a perfect cruise for us. Several hours to explore a beautiful island and its perfect beaches. The scenery was picture-postcard gorgeous. The sunsets and cloud formations were amazing. Even saw some whales and dolphins (although briefly). We had very good weather, with only occasional rain, although lots of humidity. The shore excursions were a nice diversion, and in Noumea, New Caledonia, we ran around on our own because they have their own bus/taxi systems. Tendering process went well where it was necessary. Thought it would have been more efficient for them to have some place to wash off your sand-covered shoes upon entering the ship. Instead, the poor crew spent all day vacuuming sand from all parts of the ship. Discovered that, for us, two days at sea without a port, is about the most we would like. Although Holland America had lots of things to do, they were very contest-oriented (trivia, bingo, etc.), with very few lectures. It would have been more enjoyable to have had some experts on board to discuss different aspects of island culture. There were a few prepared lectures, but nothing terribly exciting. My husband took some cooking classes, and I did a lot of reading. They actually have quite a good library on board, even if you don't bring enough books for yourself. Showed fairly current films each evening (with popcorn). Also enjoyed the tai-chi every day. Great gym with what looks like new equipment and beautiful views. Food in the main dining room was generally a 9. Very well prepared and a nice variety. Of course you could order whatever you wanted from the menu. Service was excellent. Suggest you make a standing reservation, even though it is not required. If you try to get a table in the dining room between 6:30 and 8 p.m. without a reservation, you will probably have to wait an hour or so. We ended up eating at 5:45, which was fine for us, because we had a lovely window table. Since there is no problem in any port getting back in time, making a reservation seems like a good idea. Wasn't as impressed with the food at the buffet. But we didn't eat there very often. One of the websites suggested getting room service for breakfast when we had an early shore excursion, and I did just that. Worked out perfectly. Delivery was always within 5 minutes of the promised time. I did not hang out the tag on the door, which gives a 30 minute window for delivery, but instead called in. This worked very well. Found wine list to be pricey, so didn't order very often. Surprised they were serving California wines when Australia has so many good wines. Every day, they had a mixed cocktail special for $4.95 or so. Tried the Pinnacle Grill one night, which is their upgraded restaurant ($25 per person). It was excellent, if you need a break from the main dining room. Casino on board proved my opinion about on-board casinos. That theory is that they loosen them up the first couple of days to hook you, then change the pay out after that. May be my imagination, but this has happened a few times to me. Certainly happened here. Other thing important to remember is that they allow smoking in certain areas on board the ship. This is most evident in the casino. If smoke is a problem for you, you won't be able to stay there for too long. Probably a good thing. No smoking in the cabins, but they do allow smoking on the verandas. We had some people tell us that the smoke from the cabin next door drifted their way at night, as did the noise from the veranda. (Another reason for liking our veranda-less room). Population of this cruise was about 600 Aussies, 400 Americans, and the rest international. Captain was extremely informative about updating the guests.Crew was primarily Indonesian and Filipino. Extremely friendly, even when passing you in the hall. Always working. Main disappointment was the entertainment. Thought the main showroom cast were only OK (some better than others), and the productions a little cheesy. Some of the guest performers didn't impress either. Really liked the guy at the piano bar and the strings, but the group playing for the dance floor felt like a bad wedding band. Fortunately, we hadn't seen many of the movies showing, so we did that after dinner. We had filled out all the paperwork on-line before boarding, or so I thought, but failed to fill out the disembarkation form and hand it in (since I thought I had already done that). Apparently, it needs to be done again, especially if you need an early disembarkation. Overall, the boarding and disembarkation were very simple and easy. We very much enjoyed the cruise and would recommend it to anyone who wants a relaxed itinerary in a beautiful part of the world. Since none of the ports (except Sydney) are included in the Port Reviews list, here goes:
Noumea, New Caledonia: This is a real city. There are buses and taxis and lots of things to see and do. We skipped the ship's shore excursion, because there wasn't one that included the two things we wanted to do: see the Aquarium and visit the Tjibaou Cultural Center (designed by Renzo Piano). This was a short port stop (from 11-6), but we had time to go to both places. Took the city bus from city center to the aquarium (about $2 per person in local currency only); visited the aquarium, which is small, but has a nice selection of local exotic species; took the bus back to the city center (because there is not bus that goes from there to the Cultural Center); then, because of time constraints, took a cab from the city center to the Cultural Center (about $20). We had arranged to join a 2:30 English speaking tour of the Cultural Center (please see my reviews on TripAdvisor under Travelfan). Took the last bus (at 4p.m.) from the Cultural Center back to the city center and made it in plenty of time. Think the Cultural Center is a must-see.Contact G.KAOUA@adck.nc to find out about times and dates of English language tours.
Port Vila, Vanuatu: Did the 7 hour around-the-island safari. Interesting local village ceremonies presented, including actual fire-walking. Don't expect air conditioning in the vans. Some were, some weren't. Luck of the draw. But village visits were very good, and the villagers offer the ceremonies as ways to help protect their heritage. Also good introduction to the role some of these islands played during WWII.
Luganville, Vanuata: Did the "Canoe the RiRi River" excursion. Actual dugout. Tree trunk that had been scooped out (and not artistically, but efficiently). Planks put on top and locals paddle. Must have good balance to even sit on the planks properly. A lot of fun. The water is extraordinary. Crystal clear and blue, blue, blue. Our paddler took us to the Blue Hole, where we got to jump (or climb down stairs) to get into the water and swim. Like out of a movie gorgeous. Not terribly well organized in that we had about 30 minutes in the water, and then were told to get ready to leave. Unfortunately, after paddling back to the put-in, we had to wait another 45 minutes for the vans to return. Either they will work on this or not. Getting impatient in the islands is non-productive.
Lautoka, Fiji: Took the tour that went to a kava ceremony (involving liquid that in its true form can be inebriating, but not in the form they offer to the tourists), please dancing by men and women. Then the visit to the orchid garden, which was beautiful, and only slightly marred by the fact that it was raining a lot. (Keeps everything green and gorgeous).
The beach ports were also very special. Strongly recommend that if you have "water shoes", you wear them, so you can walk around without worrying about getting your feet wet. They also make it much easier to march into the surf to go exploring. Some of the beaches were more for swimming and some for snorkeling. Some you could walk in and see the fish swimming around your feet (Ile des Pins). Dravuni was also extraordinary. If you like beaches at all, you will not want to get out of the water. Just bring your sunscreen (the sun is really strong down here) and some insect repellent for the no-seeums.Don't be surprised if local children and dogs come to sit with you. No one asks for anything, they are just curious. By the way, this is the first trip we have been on in a long time where there were no beggars. Even the beach vendors don't bother you. They have booths near the beach. You want to look at their stuff, fine. If not, just keep going. No pressure. Nothing uncomfortable.