We sailed HAL for the first time on the Zuiderdam, transatlantic, Venice - Ft. Lauderdale. It was the cruise from "Hell" for us.
Embarkation of 1800 folks was chaotic.. hurry and wait, hurry and wait.. Just imagine folks in a warehouse with 10 - 20 counters checking you in and my wife and I with advanced "registration". The number of people on canes, walkers and "scooters" was impressive although we are not of that disability.. we appreciated the older folks who dared the transatlantic crossing.
Our basis of comparison was six other cruises, including a transatlantic cruise on the QE II before she was purchased as a hotel. We even bought Carnival stock during the cruise, thinking that we would take advantage of the rumored discount if you owned Carnival stock for our future cruises.
As we finally entered our stateroom (not ready when we boarded - but Lido Buffet allowed us to sit and have lunch and buy the $200 wine package) we noted, casually, a letter of "welcome" telling us about previous incidents of "norovirus" and advising us to wash hands frequently from day one. By day five, the buffet had saran wrap closing it in, all trays, silverware, etc. were handed to the guests by ship employees; all salt and pepper was removed and meal service in the dining room slowed to 1 1/2 to 2 hours (including breakfast).. public restrooms were considered off limits and "code red" was in effect. Our $250 thermal package which included the spa pool and thermal rooms were closed and we watched them scrub and clean these areas due to an out of control virus.. Rooms that reported the norovirus were specially handled with masked employees - cleaned and sanitized.. it was reported there were 300 passengers who fell to the virus.
Our problems occurred when my wife was tossed into the bathtub during the one day of rough seas with "possible cracked ribs" according to the ship's doctor and the last six hours of the cruise when both of us contracted the norovirus. The nurse came twice during the night, administered a shot and medication to me and scolded my wife for waiting so long to report the symptoms.
The virus was a severe case of "Montezuma's Revenge" that I've had in Mexico. It was as if a hand was grasping my intestines and squeezing them with the resulting diarrhea and vomiting for 4 hours. Since it was at the end of the voyage our stateroom was quarantined prior to disembarkation and we were gather with others separately and I was wheeled off the ship, through immigration, customs and onto the bus to Ft.Lauderdale airport where I was wheeled through Ft. Lauderdale, Cincinnati and St. Louis Missouri airports. I was absolutely debilitated and I had trouble holding up my head.
We followed up with HAL in Seattle. We had already deposited and schedule our transatlantic crossing on the Eurodam for April, 2009 and have requested full refund of our deposit and reimbursement for costs of getting to departure gates at the various airports in November, 2008. We're anxious to see how HAL recognize our "pain and suffering" during out sixth cruise.
We did find many experienced travelers on HAL, the ones we interacted with, were disappointed and said this was not up to HAL standards. Perhaps staff is less available given the cost cutting. Our cabin person confessed that he no long was responsible for 15 cabins but rather 30 as of this crossing. Our stateroom was cleaned and readied by 4 p.m. daily. I'm afraid that this Zuiderdam experience has queered our future sailings. We will think long and hard before we take any other cruise during our lifetimes.
We have heard recently that the Regency Cruise Lines is expensive but worth the extra - no "nickle and dime" pestering for drinks and extras as we felt was the case on the Zuiderdam. Our ship board charges amounted to over $2,000 in addition to the cruise and air costs. We learned that many others paid far LESS for similar ship accommodations which was disappointing since we had deposited and reserved six months in advance and thought that we had be treated well. Little did we know that certain charter groups from Canada especially, were attracted by extreme bargain cruise and charter air prices.