This was our second HAL cruise, and the first one was nearly flawless. On this trip, our group really felt like we were being gauged for extras or being sold more services. This took away from the relaxation factor of the cruise and was a sore spot with us, so I am downgrading to just very good. My basis for "very good" (instead of average rests on the great service from most of the staff.
The Main Dining Room, Room Staff and Security Staff were excellent as usual, and in our opinion, are the feather in the cap of HAL. Just as kind and helpful as could be, as per usual. And on this trip, the Front Office Staff was also great, and I think they have one of the toughest jobs on the ship, judging from the cranky/rude customers they had to deal with on a daily basis. Never ceases to amaze me how nasty some people on vacation can be to the hardworking and low paid staff.
I did also note that on this cruise, there were multiple folks who had nasty accidents (falls) while in different ports. Several actually left the ship with their injuries, and several had to seriously curtail their activities due to stitches, wounds, strains and bruises. Busted noses, busted knees, splinted arms.... I have to admit, my group was on high alert, as looking up at all the beautiful old sites while walking on old cobble stones and irregular steps is a bad combination. We all had some very close calls and stumbles in different cities, but I am happy to report that we all survived unscathed. If you are unsteady, I recommend a walking stick or cane, and a steady companion who can back you up. We also felt that younger people were generous in their description of "easy walk" or our favorite "only 5 minutes to get there". We found that "5 minutes" loosely translated, usually means 20 minutes, 200 uneven stairs, and 80 degree heat, all up hill. When selecting shore excursions, stick to the easy exertion levels if you are challenged. We heard many complaints from folks who could not keep up. One of our party cannot walk for long, and we were very sensitive to this issue. This is also another reason we prefer private excursion tours, as they can easily cater to any physical issues and usually get a lot closer parking than a tour bus. Well worth it in the end.
Herma, Francis and Irfan in F/B were stellar in every way, as were our Room Staff, whose names escape us at this point. Also,we usually eat breakfast in our room, and almost everyday we received a call making sure that the breakfast met our needs. It arrived correctly and on time every single day!
We found the embarkation and disembarkation nearly flawless on this trip, with no lines whatsoever on either end. We were amazed and pleased. We arrived at 2:15, with a 3:00pm deadline. On Disembarkation, we were in the 8:30-8:45am time slot. Half our group carried off our luggage, half did not, all did fine with the exception of a damaged wheel on a suitcase.
We stayed in a Verandah Suite, 8008, on the Nav deck. Room was great. This room is directly across from a staff facility room, so the door opens and closes all night long, and some staff members are a little loud. Generally this did not bother us, but might bother some. This room is also directly under the Greenhouse Spa, generally not an issue unless they are rearranging things at closing time. Room as promised, clean, neat. Glad HAL does not allow smoking in cabins any more. (But some staff do smoke in some of the service rooms, which can't possibly be permissible.) My big room gripe? Cabin neighbors who smoke on their Verandahs and or those who don't understand the concept of closing a door softly. Ours let their balcony door slam every single time, or those who "drag" their balcony furniture around. Petty, I know,I know, but it makes me nuts. Getting off my soap box.....
We did not personally partake in any entertainment, but 2 of our group did, and overall, they enjoyed it. Apparently, a few hits, a few misses, but overall good reviews. We did peek in on the BB King lounge, and it sounded great. Show cast seemed really sweet.
I only used the gym once, but found it to be nice, with good options. I like to also walk the promenade deck.
We only took 2 shore excursions, as we try hard to avoid them. Both were well organized and delivered as promised. Both were more of a scenic drive with brief stops where you could go it alone or stay with a guide. We did "Nice and EZE" tour and the Provence Les Maurers (?) tour. We would recommend both, and the price was good. Generally, we arrange our own private tours through local guides, as we can customize the itinerary as maximize the time in port, for less money. We also prefer to avoid standing around waiting for others to come back to the bus. We also get to avoid the "herd" experience. Again, I know it's my personal issue, but I find that some people on the excursions are beyond rude, and it makes me nuts. On the above mentioned excursions, one man and his wife felt the need to carry on loud independent group comments and conversations as the guide was trying to give us the history, all while they stood smack in the middle of the group. We all know how hard it is to hear the guides on a good day, especially for the folks who may be hard of hearing or more elderly. This same man felt the need to make several scathing remarks about how the French wouldn't be here without Americans, blah blah blah. My Vietnam Vet brother-in-law quickly shut him down. Okay...getting off my soap box.....
We were in port with a "megaship" on a few occasions, and the crowds of shore excursions were unreal, they were all over, and there were a ton of them. This occurred in Naples/Pompeii/Amalfi on a national holiday in Italy, and traffic was a mess. As a result, 23 passengers on a non-HAL excursion did not make it back to our ship, which left without them. They did make it to the next port. Luckily we did a private tour, and our driver was constantly being updated on traffic, and devised an alternate route for us.
Tender operations were very smooth, very well run, no issues at all. They did a great job of handing out numbers and getting everyone smoothly loaded in. Again, very well organized on this trip. Staff was great, Security was on task and efficient. They seemed very helpful to passengers needing additional assistance.
I will say that our group felt that everything was a sales pitch, and this was a big negative for us. Art "auction", photos, behind the scenes tours, Thermal Spa, spa products, etc. On the barbecue night, drinks were offered up by waiters walking around with trays of pre-made cocktails. If you say yes, beware...because if it is in a swanky plastic HAL cup, that cup costs $3.95 MORE than the regular drink. They fail to mention this until the bill comes. Items of tchatkes and souvenirs are always being hawked on the ship. It never ends.
Loved being able to take many sunset shots from the 10th/11th floor decks, while lounging in chairs, watching the sun go down.
We did not partake in internet service packages. They are as slow as ever, and still expensive. I would like to see HAL upgrade this and follow the lead of hotels with free wi-fi. Or at least improve the quality of the service, if for a fee. We relied on free wi-fi on shore, which was usually available and fairly reliable. Venice was probably the most difficult place to find consistent free wi-fi.
The barbecue night was good, but the seating was chaos. And getting non-alcoholic beverages served took forever, we made 3 requests, then finally got up and went in to the Lido restaurant and got our own. Food was good, lines were really long. (They close one of the Main Dining Room floors on this night). I would skip this next time, especially if traveling with older or less mobile friends.
Great experience: We booked a Cabana Club corner cabana on our At Sea day, and it was well worth the $115, at least to us. Lovely, quiet, clean, comfortable. Plenty of room for all 4 of us. 2 big double loungers, and a dining table and chairs for 4. We were given fruit, water, and Evian mist. They took our lunch order (although a bit late, it was after 1), brought us food, served champagne and then chocolate covered strawberries in the afternoon. All this was included. A few points: information on the pricing and booking of the cabanas was sketchy online, and we could not book until we were on board. This is the first thing I did when I got on board. (I thought they would sell out quickly, but there were still empty cabanas on the At Sea day.) The flier provided at the front desk seemed old, as some of the items were not in evidence. It stated that we would actually have a food spread at the cabana club, which we did not. It stated that we would be served ice cream, we were not. It stated that we would receive some additional Greenhouse Spa discounts, but we did not. While these are certainly not deal breakers, I am just pointing out that it was not quite up to date. That being said, still great. And nothing prevents you from going down to Lido and getting food/snacks on your own, but again, they do take your order and deliver to your cabana for no additional charge.
*Note, the Lido cabanas are much smaller, and sit on the Lido deck right next to the other diners. Different experience altogether, not private, not open to the ocean. Spend the extra money and get the Cabana Club size. There is also an open area among these larger cabanas to sit or lay in the sun as well. Great place to quietly lunch, read, relax, nap in the (fully shaded) gorgeous sea air. Worth it!
HAL allowed 1 bottle of wine for each person at embarkation, but we only brought one, from Barcelona. For us, they used the honor system, and did not actually check our totes, but instead they just asked us if we had alcohol. We told them we had one bottle of wine, but they never even looked to see what we had. We also found that we could pre-order alcohol online from HAL for our room, and honestly, pricing was not that bad, and the bottles were huge, much larger than we anticipated. And easier than trying to "sneak" it on board. We did not come close to finishing our Skyy or Jack Daniels. We also inadvertently brought more alcohol on board during shore excursions. (Not thinking, we bought souvenirs of Limoncello and Sangria in silly little souvenir bottles, which sailed right through security without mention). Only later did we realize what we had done. We also had a small mini bottle of wine for our after-kayak trip, bought in town, that we never drank. This too was brought back on board and never discovered. We ended up giving away much of the alcohol we had purchased, but as a plus, also did not spend much money on onboard cocktails. The drink packages are also a good way to save on cocktails and soft drinks, if you will consume them.
We loved our Main Dining Room experience. I have a food allergy, and they were great, giving me a custom menu to order from in advance. Consistent service, quality and experience every time. They even had the chef make me a special dessert based on one that I really liked on embarkation night. Really nice! They never disappointed us, really great. We are all carrying the extra weight to prove it.
We dined at Pinnacle one time, and it was not up to the usual par. First, it is impossible to book reservations for more than 2 people at a time online. So, if you have a larger group, you need to re-arrange the reservation when you get on the ship to get all people in your party at the same table. When doing so, the Maitre D was very "put out" and stated that rearranging 3 separate tables for 4 people into one table for 4 was going to be "difficult". (Really?) Somehow, he managed to survive this hugely difficult chore, lol. He was honestly the only grouch we encountered among the staff on this ship and apparently other ship staff are aware of his reputation. Interesting to note that on the day we actually dined, the restaurant was half empty, and service was still slow.
Our prior Pinnacle experience was awesome, (save for the fact that they fed me my food allergen after insisting it was fine) but not this one. They were slow, dishes sat on the table a long time, and quality was iffy. It took over an hour to get one iced tea, and we still never got the tea for 2 others at the table. Food was brought to the table lukewarm, and one party received a really salty entree. The waiter argued with us on all points, including the salty fish. He lectured our friend that if she could not eat salt, she should have told him up front. (She CAN eat salt, it's not her fault they over-salted the recipe) Only when the chef actually tasted the fish did they admit we were right, but the waiter never apologized. Well over an hour after sitting down they then offered a substitute for the fish. We had had enough at that point and were ready to leave. I actually timed the service issues on my phone, once service started going down hill. He argued with me about how long it took to get the tea. This was caused by his misunderstanding...he sent the wine steward to us for the tea. She was delayed, and when we told her we only wanted tea, she dropped the ball. Listen, we all have "off days", but being lectured and argued with at the table is not cool. They finally deducted two of the meals, but I had requested a refund on all four and did not get it. In retrospect, Tamarind was highly recommended, and I wish we had eaten there instead. In good faith, other cruisers we spoke to at at Pinnacle several times on this cruise, and did not have any issues. But I would be reluctant to eat here again. Main Dining Room was a great experience for us as usual, we will stick with them.
We did not use the laundry service this time, although we have used it in the past and it is very good. We washed our own stuff in our room, as there is no laundromat on this ship. One of our group did use the bag service, $30 per bag, and he got his clothes back within 24 hours.
Greenhouse Spa was good overall. I splurged big time and booked acupuncture, a pedicure, and a hot rock massage. The acupuncture doctor was really good, but came back in to the treatment room several times to pressure me to purchase $1000 more in treatments over the remaining days of the cruise. This completely ruined the "relaxation" treatment that I had requested. I work in the corporate world, so I am used to high pressure sales people, but this was way over the top. I had to literally stop her from "booking me in, just to save the appointment slot" on subsequent treatments. She literally had the port schedule in front of her, telling me when I would have "free time" to schedule these appointments. I should have actually requested a refund on this treatment, in retrospect, including the automatic tip. Additionally, the treatment room was right off the LIDO exit and elevators, being really busy and loud, and you could hear two separate PA/music systems being piped in.
My pedicure was wonderful, thanks to Isabella. She was sweet, and the fire and ice hot rock pedi was delightful after all the walking around. I had mentioned the "hard sell" acupuncture appointment, so perhaps she laid off of selling anything. I highly recommend this, and Isabella was fabulous.
My hot rock massage was EXCELLENT, and could not have been nicer. No sales pressure here, either. I highly recommend this treatment. *I booked all my spa treatments in advance online, because I wanted them to occur on At Sea days/mornings. Otherwise, I would recommend that you wait to book any spa services, because there are always discounts later in the cruise. Had I waited, I could have saved 20-30% for services, but again, I wanted very specific time spots. If you have more flexability, wait until you are onboard to book.
My husband also had the hot rock massage, and loved it, but he was upsold on products, which he did not buy.
I would have loved to experience the thermal room/spa/pool, but the pricing was exorbitant. Based on the spa service prices, HAL should allow you the use of the these features on the days that you purchase a full price spa treatment, just like every other spa in the world. $40 per day is ridiculous after spending $500 on spa services. Looked nice, but I was not going to pay for this. I recall that this did not used to be so expensive.
Overall, a great trip, made so by the staff of HAL. Easy embarkation and disembarkation were a huge plus, very well organized. We really enjoy the size of the HAL ships, as it makes things more manageable and personal. We are averse to the megaships, just can't imagine being on a ship with 4000 passengers. Read Less