This review is for the cruise from Auckland NZ to Sydney, embarking on November 7, 2014.
First, the embarkation process was an organizational nightmare. Long lines (embarkation took over two hours) and long times standing in what can only be described as a dillapidated pier. Walking surface was uneven, which was a challenge for any passengers with mobility issues. We had booked a Neptune suite, which is supposed to include priority boarding, but that was not accommodated. Furthermore, my mother has problems walking and uses a walker, but there were no arrangements made for guests with these problems.
Stateroom: As mentioned, we had booked a Neptune Suite. These suites are smaller than similar ones on other vessels. The size of the room was comparable to a standard veranda suite on Princess and Celebrity (both of which we have sailed recently). Our stateroom steward was nice enough, but it was the day AFTER sailing when we finally met him. On previous HAL voyages, our steward would introduce himself on the same day of embarkation. He was also difficult to locate if we needed anything.
Neptune Lounge: The best part of the being in a suite. The ladies in the lounge were WONDERFUL and always willing to help out with any questions we had. They also tracked down our steward for us when we couldn't find him. I also love the fresh coffee in here. Wonderful espresso maker.
VIsta Dining Room - mediocre at best. Quality was upscale cafeteria and definitely not fine dining. Dishes lacked flavor, were often improperly cooked and the variety was limited. Seafood was often rubbery. Shrimp for shrimp cocktail (the simplest thing on the menu) tasted like it had been thawed and refrozen several times. Service was a comedy of errors with lost orders, delivering the wrong thing to the table, and never being able to find a server when you needed anything. Wine steward was never around and his knowledge of the wine list was severely lacking.
Lido Buffet - Borderline inedible. Salads looked old. Fruit it was either too green to eat or too old. No in between.
Pinnacle Grill - The first few days the service was a disaster. No cream for coffee, no servers around, and bringing the wrong items to the table. This improved after the first few days, but a few of the staff did always seem to be out of it. The coffee quality declined significantly after the first week on the ship. It was as if they ran out of the good stuff and started substituting Folgers. We also went to the Le Cirque dinner which was quite nice. Not 5 star, but still very good and the best dining experience on the ship.
On Board Entertainment - Only went to a few of the shows and they were good. The band (HALCats) was good and fun to listen to. The guitar soloist in the Crows Nest was good too.
Culinary at Sea: The cooking classes are a joke. Many of the recipe cards handed out had obvious errors and missing ingredients - the proceedure would tell you to use an ingredient that was not listed. HAL needs to double check these and standardize them. The mixology classes were good and fun.
Casino: Good staff and some fun events. The casino hostess is very nice and helpful. All dealers were fun to lose money to.
Final note: we had booked this cruise to visit Milford Sound and Hobart, both of which were excluded from the itinerary at the last minute. The reason given was rough seas. It is worth noting that on the cruise immediately prior to this one, they excluded these same destinations. Other ships on other lines were able to go and on the day we would have been going to Hobart, the ferry between Melboune and Tazmania was sailing w/o any problems. If you want to see the Fjords or go to Tazmania, I would recommend a different way to do so. Perhaps HAL should consider removing these two destinations from future published itineraries if it is common that they have to be excluded at the last minute.
Smaller than similar category staterooms on other vessels. Bathroom is nicely appointed but not as well laid out as on other ships. If you don't use the Neptune Lounge when you book a suite, then the upgrade is not worth it.